LANSING, Mich. — A Republican strategist filed a complaint Thursday alleging that state election officials improperly advised anti-gerrymandering advocates on the wording and legality of their 2018 ballot initiative instead of sticking to formatting and other technical issues.

Bob LaBrant, a lawyer for a Lansing-based GOP firm, accused Bureau of Elections staff of engaging in “mission creep” in violation of campaign-finance law and the state’s own guidance related to ballot drives. The bipartisan Board of State Canvassers last week unanimously approved a form submitted by the group Voters Not Politicians, which wants to amend the state constitution to create an independent redistricting commission to draw congressional and legislative seats once a decade.

The process now is controlled by the Legislature and governor, leading to partisan gerrymandering.

LaBrant said the bureau’s assistance “went far beyond formatting issues” to include suggestions and critiques on what sections of the constitution would be altered or abrogated by the proposal.

“It doesn’t take six drafts of a petition over a 55-day period for the Bureau of Elections to recommend approval of a petition as to form … based on formatting issues,” he wrote in the complaint, characterizing it as a “misplaced, overzealous attempt at being customer-friendly even though the service” provided is illegal.

Fred Woodhams, spokesman for Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, whose department includes the elections bureau, said Johnson would wait to respond to the allegations because the complaint had not yet been fully reviewed. The complaint will be turned over to Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate.

When the canvassers met last week, elections director Sally Williams told them the proposal was among the most complex constitutional amendments presented in recent memory because it would affect all three government branches and alter 11 constitutional provisions. She recommended approving the form because it “appears to meet our legal requirements.”

Voters Not Politicians needs to collect 315,000 valid voter signatures within a six-month period to make the November 2018 ballot.


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