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Unlock Michigan will not face charges after investigation into petition circulators

Attorney general says practices may have been unethical, but there wasn’t enough evidence of anything illegal
An "Unlock Michigan" sign is seen in Dickinson County, July 2020.
An "Unlock Michigan" sign is seen in Dickinson County, July 2020.(WLUC)
Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 3:20 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - The group that successfully collected enough signatures to repeal Michigan’s Emergency Powers of the Governor Act may have misrepresented their petitions but won’t face criminal charges, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said investigators reviewed several hidden camera video clips showing third-party petition circulators being trained with partially false information, which may have misrepresented the petitions they asked people to sign. But she said none of those are criminal violations.

Nine people investigated for potential criminal violations have been cleared of legal wrongdoing, Nessel said. However, she pointed out the six-month investigation by her office into Unlock Michigan’s practices shows why voters signing a petition need to educate themselves about the issue.

“It is clear from this investigation that some paid circulators may resort to unethical practices in order to fulfill the demands of their clients,” she said.

Unlock Michigan turned in more than 520,000 signatures on Oct. 2 to repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to make COVID-19 orders for much of 2020. The Michigan Bureau of Elections announced Tuesday that enough of those signatures are valid to move the issue forward.

If the Michigan Board of Canvassers ratifies the staff finding that well over 340,000 valid signatures were turned in, the measure will go to the Legislature. Lawmakers can approve the repeal without a threat of Whitmer vetoing it or place the issue on the ballot for a statewide vote.

Nessel said the Unlock Michigan group hired National Petition Management to collect signatures, which then hired two other subcontractors for assistance: In the Field and Let the Voters Decide. Those organizations circulated petitions on the east and west sides of the state, respectively.

The Attorney General’s Office reviewed video captured with a camera disguised as a pen by someone representing the Keep Michigan Safe group, which formed to oppose the Unlock Michigan effort. Nessel said the video shows an In the Field trainer making untrue statements to petition circulators about the effort.

Specifically, she said the trainer claimed the petitions would place the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act directly on the ballot when it actually goes to the Republican-led Legislature first.

However, Nessel pointed out there is no state law against lying about or verbally misrepresenting the purpose of a petition.

Investigators also viewed three videos of an attorney, who was working on behalf of the Keep Michigan Safe effort, talking with petition circulators. The attorney asked them about signing her spouse’s name to the petition with hers.

Nessel said there is no law against a petition circulator telling someone they can sign their spouse’s name to a petition. However, actually signing anyone else’s name on a petition would violate the law.

Nessel said the attorney’s videos created a hurdle against filing charges in the Unlock Michigan investigation. In the end, Nessel decided there was not sufficient evidence to charge any of the nine people who were investigated.

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