Gretchen Whitmer Fails to Derail Recall Petitions; Appeals Court Rejects All Arguments

In a photo provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. The governor delivered remarks addressing Michiganders after the Michigan Attorney General, Michigan State Police, U.S. Department of Justice, and FBI announced state …
Michigan Office of the Governor via AP

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) failed to stop a series of recall petitions filed against her after the state Board of Canvassers approved them.

Whitmer appealed the approval of seven petitions against her and Lieutenant Gov. Garlin Gilchrist (D), and last week, an appeals court rejected all of her arguments.

According to Michigan law, the Canvassers judge a petition’s language and presentation for clarity and factual accuracy.

One petition, filed by James Makowski, stated the governor should be recalled because “Gretchen Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020143 on July 1, 2020 closing indoor service at bars.”

Whitmer argued “bars” was an ambiguous and undefined term. But the court noted the petition used precisely the same language as Whitmer’s executive order: Its subtitle was “Closing indoor service at bars.” More:

The Governor maintains that where “electors are left to guess at [the] type of ‘bar’ the [p]etition refers to, the [p]etition lack[s] sufficient clarity and is noncompliant with the Michigan Election Law.” We reject this argument. Any person invited to sign the petition would very likely envision a reference to a conventional tavern, where people can purchase and consume alcoholic beverages, when faced with the wording, “closing indoor service at bars.” This is particularly so when the word is taken in context, used as it is in connection with the related terms “nightclubs” and “restaurants,” strongly suggesting that the term “bars” refers to an establishment, like a nightclub and like many restaurants, that serves alcoholic beverages.

In another case:

The Governor argues that where she was only identified by name and title in the petition form where it called for that information, but [the petitioner] did not repeat her name and title within the wording of the reason for the recall, the petition should have been invalidated.

“We reject this argument as it is unpersuasive,” the court ruled.

In another rejected argument, Whitmer attempted to claim “jibberish” that the court ultimately concluded was “an occasional irregularity bound up with the processing of electronic documents” should have been the reason for its rejection. Portions of the text were interrupted by a series of numbers, letters, and characters on a petition related to Whitmer’s policy that put coronavirus-infected patients in nursing homes to recuperate:

We conclude that although the Governor relied on the appearance of a string of nonsensical characters to support her challenge to the clarity of the petition language, the Governor’s hasty conclusion about a word-processing irregularity does not arise often enough to compel reading the petition as featuring some gibberish in place of several normal characters that appear the rest of the time.

Whitmer attempted an appeal based on a faulty transcript. Specifically, the governor objected to a quotation given at a press conference in which she attacked a political organization and the DeVos family. For example, the official transcript read “political tax,” while Whitmer clearly referred to “political attacks” in her remarks. She also cited a portion of the transcript that said “I’m me” when she said “on me.”

Whitmer also attempted to have the petition tossed out because a portion repeated the word “on” twice in its introductory sentence.

The court disagreed with Whitmer’s arguments and said “any reader who might think the repeated ‘on’ intentional might ponder the peculiar usage, but would not glean from it any misapprehension of what is actually being conveyed.

“We plan to appeal this disappointing decision and we fully intend to beat back these irresponsible partisan attacks against the Governor in the courts, on the streets, or at the ballot,” a spokesman for the governor said in reaction, the Daily Wire reported.

He lashed out, claiming the effort was “part of a massive and coordinated attack by Republicans,” despite the Board of Canvassers being appointed by Whitmer.

As for the recall process itself, organizers would need to collect roughly 1.1 million valid signatures within 60 days of the first signature being collected, Fox 17 reported.

The deadline to appear on the November 2021 ballot is July 30. If a sufficient number of signatures are gathered, essentially a do-over election would be held with Whitmer squaring off against a Republican nominee.

Whitmer intends to stand for reelection in 2022.

The case is Whitmer v. Board of State Canvassers, Docket Nos. 354474, 354475, 354583, 354794, 354795, 354878, and 354582, in the Michigan Court of Appeals.


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