The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 23, 2018

Prevailing wage repeal short on valid names - again?

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - For the second time in three years, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, the front group for the Associated Builders and Contractors - Michigan, spent well more than $1 million on a petition drive to repeal the state's prevailing wage law - and then failed to gather enough valid signatures.

Protecting Michigan Taxpayers submitted 379,903 petition signatures to the Michigan Bureau of Elections late last year that sought to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act. During the challenge process initiated by Protect Michigan Jobs, the front group for construction unions and their contractor associations, signature reviewers looked at 4,443 sample names drawn randomly by the state, and found reason to protest the validity of 1,850 of them (2,954 valid signatures are necessary for state certification).

With that sample extrapolated over the total number of signatures that PMT submitted during this effort to repeal prevailing wage - 379,903 - that 41.6 percent signature rejection rate would mean that only 223,497 signatures are valid. And the PMT needed 252,523 valid signatures. An ABC/PMT-backed petition drive in 2015 with the same goal of overturning the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act was rejected by the Michigan Board of Canvassers based on a 43 percent signature failure rate.

"In the past two years, millions of dollars have been spent on two separate petition drives trying to pass off illegible, non-voter, duplicate and otherwise fraudulent signatures to the Secretary of State," said Patrick Devlin, co-chair of Protect Michigan Jobs and secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "We hope the Board of Canvassers rejects these phony signatures immediately."

The signature review by the union-backed Protect Michigan Jobs is a process allowed under state law for any group challenging a petition. The PMJ petition challenge was formally delivered to the state Board of Canvassers on Feb. 14, the final day that a challenge is allowed under state law given the timeline of this petition process. 

"The issue before this board is quite simple: does the Protecting Michigan Taxpayers initiative petition satisfy the mandatory constitutional and statutory prerequisites for certification?" said Protect Michigan Jobs lead attorney John Pirich in his legal team's filing with the state. "Given that the signatures submitted by petitioner are lower than the threshold required for certification, the only possible answer is 'no.'" 

The submittal of the protest is hardly the final word on the case, but it is extremely encouraging given the PMT's history of submitting faulty petition documents. The four-member state Board of Canvassers, the panel which accepts or rejects the validity of statewide petitions, will look at the findings of Protect Michigan Jobs as well as a concurrent petition signature review by the Michigan Bureau of Elections in the next few weeks before voting on whether to let the petition process go forward. In 2015, the Board of Canvassers - which is comprised of two Democrats and two Republicans - unanimously rejected the ABC/PMT petition to repeal prevailing wage because of thousands of duplicate, fake and unreadable signatures.

In the case of this petition drive, there was some disparity between the "bad signature" count made by Protect Michigan Jobs and the state Bureau of Elections in examining an initial sampling of 535 signatures (that were ultimately part of the total 4,443 sample names). However, using a formula for sampling petition signatures that it has used for decades, a unanimous Board of Canvassers found last month that by a margin of five ineligible signatures, the greater sampling of signatures was warranted for examination.

According to the petition challenge submitted by Protect Michigan Jobs, this petition drive had many of the same problems as the 2015 signature-gathering effort with duplicate signature and legibility problems. This challenge found at least 87 duplicate signatures, which invalidates both names. Another 1,387 names were found invalid due to legibility and registration challenges. 

However, the challenges in this petition effort had a particular focus on circulator errors (made by the person collecting the signatures). The circulators were paid for their work and many were from out of state, neither of which is against state law. But the circulators are a rich area for invalidating multiple names, since according to state law, the presence of an invalid circulator's signature at the bottom of a petition sheet can invalidate all eight signatures on the sheet above. In the case of a circulator named Robert Jones, the review by Protect Michigan Jobs revealed that he submitted 45 sheets which should be invalidated, because Jones' address is for a UPS store in Los Angeles, which has post office boxes and is zoned commercial. Michigan law requires circulators to use a residential address.

Another 17 other circulators submitted addresses that were attached to motels or hotels without record of that person living there; two gave their address as the Central United Methodist Church in Detroit; another was for a Grand Rapids women's shelter, and another circulator gave her address as the Genesee County Community Action Resource. All are not considered residential addresses.

"Critically," the challenge brief says, "a significant number of circulators clearly do not want to be found, which is directly contrary to Michigan election law...." The reason the law is in place, the brief says, is that if there is a question about a circulator, the state needs to be able to find that person.

Other circulators didn't check the box indicating they were from out of state, and some used non-existent addresses, and some made their mark with fraudulent signatures, according to the challenge brief. 

If the petition effort is rejected by the state Board of Canvassers and a potential legal review in a court, the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act is likely safe for the remainder of 2018. But if the Board of Canvassers somehow approves the petition signatures, and the case survives a potential lawsuit, then the petition question goes to the state Legislature for a vote. If enough lawmakers don't approve the petition language, then the question of whether to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act goes to a statewide vote on the general election ballot in November.

"Let's end this attack on skilled trades workers so we can build a better Michigan," said co-chair of Protect Michigan Jobs and National Electrical Contractors Association - Michigan Executive Director Mike Crawford.