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Michigan Civil Rights Commission Finds Campaign Deceived Voters

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Opponents of affirmative action deceived voters into signing a petition that put an initiative onto Michigan's November 7th ballot, concludes a recently released report by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. The measure, if it passes, would amend the state constitution to ban affirmative action programs. The evidence indicates that the activities of "paid agents" of the organization that is financing the campaign to ban affirmative action in Michigan include "shameful acts of deception and misrepresentation," says the Civil Rights Commission's letter.

The letter accompanied a 14-page petition and report filed with the Michigan State Supreme Court seeking reconsideration of a lower court's decision not to remove the misleading anti-affirmative ballot initiative. After conducting several hearings across the state, the Civil Rights Commission concluded that indeed fraud had occurred and sought this remedy from the Michigan State Supreme Court.

Witnesses told the Civil Rights Commission that signature gatherers hired by the anti-affirmative action group had convinced them that the petition would protect affirmative action. Some petition signers later found out the true aims of the initiative and reported to the Civil Rights Commission that it was contrary to their beliefs. Had they been told accurate information, they said, they would have never signed.

Some paid signature gatherers also testified before the Commission and admitted that the anti-affirmative action organization that had hired them taught them how to deceive potential signers, either by refusing to let them read the petition or by fast-talking signers into thinking it protected affirmative action.

Reverend Nathaniel Smith, a Lansing-area minister, described attending a petition circulation training held by the anti-affirmative action organization, which misleadingly calls itself the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI). Most of the signature gatherers, he told the Commission, were African Americans. MCRI representatives told the group that this petition protects civil rights. Smith believes that hundreds of signatures may have been gathered under these false pretenses.

A Grand Rapids-area signature gatherer and his friend testified they had also been deceived. Upon being hired by MCRI at $1.50 per signature, they were told the petition protected affirmative action. When they learned otherwise, they confronted the two people who had hired them and asked whether the petition truly protected affirmative action. The two representatives of MCRI could not or would not answer honestly, the Commission's report suggests.

Some signature gatherers deceived potential signers by falsely claiming that prominent local community leaders had endorsed the petition. According to the Commission's report, one such person, Ruthie Stevenson, the president of the Macomb County Chapter of the NAACP, testified that she had been asked to sign a petition about affirmative action and was told that Ruthie Stevenson supported the petition. When Stevenson told the signature gatherer, "I'm Ruthie Stevenson, and I'm not in support of this divisive initiative," the MCRI representative immediately left. Stevenson read an affidavit by another individual who was also told that Stevenson supported the petition.

The Commission's report also argued, "It appears that the acts documented in the report represent a highly coordinated, systemic strategy involving many circulators and, most importantly, thousands of voters." MCRI appears to have targeted parts of the state with high concentrations of African American voters who it expected would support affirmative action, the Commission concluded. Potential voters were then approached and told that their signature would save affirmative action, protect civil rights, or supported other issues popular among Michigan voters, such as raising the minimum wage.

In addition to calling for intervention by the State Supreme Court, the Commission's letter and petition accused MCRI of voter fraud. The Civil Rights Commission urged state Attorney General Mike Cox, a Republican, to conduct an investigation in order to "preserve the integrity of Michigan's electoral process."

David Waymire, spokesperson for One United Michigan, a coalition of business, labor, and community groups that is urging a NO vote on the deceptive ballot initiative this November 7th, said, "I'd be surprised if Mike Cox didn't take a look at some of these allegations." He also noted that unfortunately it does not appear to be illegal in Michigan to lie to voters to get them to sign a petition to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Waymire contended that MCRI's campaign had falsely claimed to be protecting civil rights because most Michigan voters don't agree with its goals. "Their entire campaign is involved in deception," he said. MCRI outright lied to voters and was successful at obfuscating the issues. Unfortunately, he concluded, MCRI has refused to address the issues raised by the Civil Rights Commission, relying on "ad hominem attacks on members of the Commission."

MCRI is financially backed by a group of out-of-state businessmen who oppose affirmative action. Funding for the petition drive was distributed by a California-based anti-affirmative action group headed by Republican Ward Connerly. Connerly recently admitted to violating California's campaign finance laws by failing to report sources of income used to finance a ballot initiative in California as well as a host of other campaigns that probably includes MCRI. (For more information on this story, click here.)

--Joel Wendland can be reached at
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--Joel Wendland is editor of Political Affairs.
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