Rejection of Michigan abortion petition sparks debate over canvassing board's duties

Was it politics or procedure that guided the decision on Michigan's abortion petition?

That's the underlying question on the minds of many voters after the Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 when deciding whether a petition to put abortion legalization on the ballot in November should be approved. 

A tie between the partisan board means the initiative is rejected. But, as is the case with every other move relating to abortion procedures in Michigan, this won't be the last the state hears about it. And its status on the November ballot could have big implications for turnout since Democrats believe the issue will work in their favor. 

Republicans on the board rejected the petition over errors in the language that was used - primarily over dozens of spaces that were left out in the language. Democrats on the board argued its members had no authority to base their decision on the content of the petition. 

Nearly three-quarters of a million signatures were turned in with the petition. 

RELATED: Abortion off the November ballot for now

The job of the Board of State Canvassers is largely an administrative one: Certifying elections, counting signatures, and approving the language form of petitions. Drama surrounding the group's duties has risen recently following several cases of canvassers refusing to certify local election results during the 2020 presidential race. 

The consternation over the board's voting continued this summer when the Michigan Election Bureau recommended the board reject the petitions to put several gubernatorial Republican candidates on the primary ballot in August over faulty signatures. The board deadlocked over the decision.

Despite another recommendation from the bureau to approve both the petition legalizing abortion and another voter rights petition, the board deadlocked again after Canvassers Tony Daunt and Richard Houskamp said the spacing issues on the petition were ‘egregious.’

Time is short for an appeal to be filed so the state Supreme Court can weigh in on the issue. Groups can appeal the decision within seven business days. 

The official ballot must be finalized by Sept. 9.