That headline quote is from the famous Casey Stengel, then managing the hapless New York Mets in 1962, when he talked with reporters while the expansion franchise struggled through an abysmal season.
It seems that’s the same query that might be asked in Michigan after the Board of State Canvassers (BOSC) deadlocked on whether two ballot questions — to enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution and to expand voting rights — ought to be allowed to go on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. For that matter, another ballot issue — to amend the state’s term limits statute and require enhanced financial disclosure by public officials — has been approved by the BOSC but is being challenged in court over what plaintiffs argue is “misleading” wording designed to hoodwink voters. The abortion and voting rights issues are now also being appealed in court. So we still can’t be sure what will be on the 11/8 ballot.
Bruce Timmons, a longtime former legal counsel and staff aide in numerous legislatures spanning more than half a century, asks this question:
“Can’t anyone draft statutes and petitions correctly anymore?”
Continues Timmons: “Given the current fiasco at the BOSC on two controversial and far-reaching proposals, can’t anyone read what they are printing for petitions or complying with long-standing rules about including constitutional provisions affected by a proposed constitutional amendment? It’s bizarre, and it puts Supreme Court in a real bind because we know that the current majority on the high bench has to lean toward support for both this time. What precedent could that set down the road? I guess none of those involved have gone through this process, or they forgot what they should have remembered. Where is the simple matter of “proof-reading” before you print thousands of copies? Where have all the experts gone? Are they all retired?”
Bob LaBrant, a retired attorney and legal counsel to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, also decried the sloppy work done by petitioners and the Secretary of State’s election division but doubts that it will keep the three proposals off the ballot.
Says LaBrant: “When this year’s abortion proposal was submitted to the BOSC for approval as to form, I’m sure there were spaces between words in the text. Sometime after BOSC approval as to form, a run-on version must have found its way to the printer. I’m amazed that during petition circulation no one caught it. In a perfect world, it should be kept off the ballot because it’s gibberish. Former state legislator Bill Van Regenmorter once challenged a petition because it misnumbered sections which conflicted with his Crime Victims Rights amendment to the Constitution. In that case, the courts chose to say it could NOT be administratively corrected and therefore kept the new petition language off the ballot. However, I don’t see the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court keeping the abortion proposal off this fall’s ballot. Perhaps the courts will restore the ‘substantial compliance’ standard that was in effect before 2012. Democrats want the abortion proposal on the ballot for voter turnout purposes, which affect all sorts of statewide, Congressional, and state legislative races. That is why the Supreme Court has so far held off ruling on abortion. “The “altered or abrogated” issue should have been invoked in 2018 to keep Voters Not Politicians off the ballot. Justices Clement and Viviano sided with Democratic members of the Supreme Court and voted against that challenge. Only Justice Brian Zahra remains on the Court who supported the ‘altered or abrogated’ challenge.”
Continues Timmons: ” I am seeing the same kind of bad drafting in bills and complying with legislative rules. No one pays attention, no one seems to read the bills. I heard from one insider that the House rostrum staff isn’t what it used to be.
“In recent years I’ve caught blank tie-bars that got as far as final concurrence (2020)*, a bill that was intended to extend a sunset that had an effective date after the sunset took effect (2018)*. There was another involving lack of notice on the calendar and House or Senate journal of a required 3/4 vote when a bill would amend an initiated law (multiple times). There has been an absence on House and Senate websites of bills to which a bill is tie-barred (twice this Session)*. There have been postings of the wrong substitute*, a posting of a substitute that was totally blank*, MCL sections that have not been amended to be consistent with changes to other sections in the same act (2020, still not corrected). There has been a lack of awareness that a change to the ‘appearance’ traffic ticket directly affects the uniform traffic citation because they have long been part of the same 4-part form (2020). There seems to be a total lack of appreciation that some bills require time for implementation (ergo, need for delayed effective dates) These are all ongoing. *All of what I just itemized have been corrected because I spotted them, usually by accident, and reported them.
“I guess there is nothing new under the sun. In 1988, HJR P (Van Regenmorter’s constitutional amendment on crime victims rights. Art I. Sec. 24) had an effective date clause when adopted by both houses. But the Secretary of State left it off the ballot. Seems someone made a photocopy of the proposal that, quite unintentionally, left off the last line of the original –- the effective date clause. No one double-checked the copy against the original, and staff hadn’t seen an effective date on a joint resolution before, so they didn’t realize the omission. I spotted the omission first, but too late to undo the damage and the version submitted to and approved by the voters does not have that date. (That became moot long ago.)
“WAY back, statutory references to constitutional provisions of the 1963 Constitution used Arabic numbering for Articles. Over the years, before I went over to the Legislative Service Bureau (1981-82), I recall seeing the text in the 1961-62 Constitutional Convention debate volumes that used Roman numerals. When I was at LSB, I had a chance to see the official document that used Roman Numerals, and that is why all legislation since then has used Roman Numeral references to Articles instead of (as in the 1908 constitution) Arabic numerals. But for years, LSB drafters made an assumption of convenience without looking at the original.
“The point? Assumptions are a poor substitute for fact, and a second look obviates a ton of red faces.”
Bill Gelineau - 2018 Libertarian Nominee for Governor says
As the Libertarians have gone through incredible hoops to get ballot language approved, this ranks up there with so-called contenders for Governor not managing their petition process. Laughable.
Clearly, the Board of Canvassers is equally laughable. The God Janus has to be amused by the two-faced (partisan) nonsense it spews each year.
Nonetheless, I predict the 4-3 Democratic Majority on the Supreme Court will put this on the ballot. Neither can justify their behavior. But, when it actually is voted on and 65% of the voters enshrine the basics of Roe into the Constitution, will the crazies on the right EVER let this go?
What if it was 80%?. That didn’t stop Whitmer from spending billions on roads despite a resounding NO a few years before the Pandemic.
People have short memories. Thanks Bill for reminding voters.
David L Richards says
I am puzzled by the removal of spacing in the abortion petition. Why would anyone do that? And why wouldn’t it be quickly corrected if it was a mistake? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court puts it on the ballot anyway, but why risk your effort when you know the opponents to your petition will look for every technical argument possible to keep your proposal off the ballot?
Elliott Smith says
Bruce and Bob part of the problem is we need to hire, keep and listen to more folks with your historical knowledge, and technical experience. That, of course, is up to the people who fund these proposals. A couple of professional proofreaders wouldn’t hurt either.
Therese (Terry) Shaw says
I have often volunteered to proofread various writings which clearly were printed without a final read by a human being.
Attorney for 40+ years and college instructor in Latin for 10 years.
But mostly, graduate of Catholic schools in 1970.
Plus, I’m retired.
Heck, I’d do it for free–for people like me, it’s fun!
John C Stewart says
ABC-WXYZ–SE Michigan media – is reporting that the Michigan Supreme Court will probably deal with the issue of “Reproductive Rights” on the ballot next week.
Timothy K SULLIVAN says
Nice article, but a bit depressing, Bill.
Mr. Timmons is correct. The ballot proposal fiasco shows how hyper-politicized all this has become. The overt and wholesale partisan politicization of the BOSC and courts – at all levels – makes this immeasurably worse. Now, words; actual Constitutional language; and even proper procedure MUST be sacrificed for politics. The political ends justify the means is now the rule of the day. And if both sides play that game, things will tend to turn to nitrogenous waste much sooner than anyone wants, and Chicago and Illinois politics are our future.
As much as it pains me to say this, Bob LaBrant is right on this process and the elections division. In days of old, the sloppy and inept ballot proposals would have been rejected by the BOSC. Not anymore. He’s right that an Appeals Court panel or the Supremes will approve it, most likely on party-line votes.
What he also implies, is this means we may see a day when we cannot trust the courts for justice. Just politics. Though he did not mention it, we have Court of Claims Judge Gleicher, who should have recused herself but didn’t, issuing an injunction that effectively overrules a Court of Appeals decision that she lost as a trial attorney (Mahaffey v. Michigan Attorney General). I admit I am not sure if a Court of Claims judge has the legal authority under statute to effectively overturn an appeals court decision she lost. I will leave that to lawyers to comment on, but as a layperson, it makes NO sense.
The Elections Division is a mess. The head is the son of a former Democratic state senator. Imagine the tantrums and outrage that would emanate from the Freep, MPR and other media if a Republican SOS had named say, one of Bill Schuette’s or the late Jack Welborn’s kid as head of elections. But one thing we can count on after this is that in politics, is the other side now knows what they can get away with.
At some point in time, even politicians must realize that appearances matter and that leadership in the elections division needs to follow the Caesar’s wife rule (being beyond reproach). But that means realizing the democratic and constitutional processes are more important than politics.
I am not holding my breath.
M Lipton says
Seriously? The spacing errors, while lamentable, are hardly a reason to disenfranchise the one million voters who signed the abortion petition. How about including a screen shot of the ballot – i suspect that you, Mr. Timmons, and your commenters will have NO problem reading the language of the proposal and understanding where words start and stop. Do better.
John Llewellyn says
A revolving door Legislature creates a low quality legislative product. Which was intended by the out-of-state money that continues to fund the “ popular term limits” in Michigan.
dan murphy says
The Petition process is in need of major reforms! “Dark money” , and out of state ideological forces seem to have taken over the system . Clarity of message is not the primary goal!
An equally enlightening, sobering, and eye-opening account. Praise must be given where it is due: this is one of the best article-reader comment combinations that I have read in the last few years. Kudos!
Chuck Moss says
Reading over your work for errors can most certainly save you from much difficulty and embarrassment.
Back where I come from we have people who do nothing but read things all day to look for mistakes. They are called ‘editors’ and they have no more brains, heart, or courage than you do.
BUT they have one thing you haven’t got.
–“People who’ll listen to them?”