Petitioning Rights for Non-Michigan Residents

March 31, 2014

To place an initiative or referendum on the ballot in Michigan, advocacy groups must collect thousands of signatures using volunteers or paid professionals who circulate petitions. The Supreme Court has recognized that the right to collect petition signatures is a form of political speech entitled to maximum protection under the First Amendment.

Until 2014, however, only Michigan residents were allowed to circulate these petitions. Similar “resident only” laws in other states have been struck down as unconstitutional by federal courts all over the country.

In 2013 the ACLU of Michigan wrote a letter to the Secretary of State’s office asking state election officials to end this unconstitutional discrimination against out-of-state petitioners, but no action was taken. In February 2014 we filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Humane Society and several other organizations challenging Michigan’s state residency requirement for petition circulators.

Soon after the lawsuit was filed and just a few days before our motion for a preliminary injunction was scheduled to be heard by Judge Robert Cleland, the Michigan legislature rushed through a bill repealing the residency requirement with immediate effect. We therefore voluntarily dismissed the case in March 2014.

(Humane Society Legislative Fund v. Johnson; ACLU Attorneys Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg; Cooperating Attorney Bill Burdett.)

View the full 2014-2015 Legal Docket.