Ward Connerly's American Civil Rights Coalition has spent more than half a million dollars to get a state constitutional amendment on the ballot here. It's the “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative,” which would ban any affirmative-action consideration of race by the state of Michigan or its units and subdivisions (including my employer, Wayne State University).
Initially, the effort was derailed by a state-court ruling that MCRI — a proposed amendment to the state constitution — was improperly worded. Plaintiffs urged, and the court agreed, that the initiative's proposed ballot presentation obscured what the amendment would really do. The ballot language presented the amendment as one to bar state entities from “discriminating or granting preferential treatment” on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. The Michigan constitution, though, already makes it illegal for the state to “discriminate” on those grounds; the only change made by the proposed amendment is to bar “preferential treatment” — that is, affirmative action. The lower court held that the ballot proposal violated state law because it didn't make that clear. Our (Republican) state attorney general appealed, though, and the appellate court reversed, finding no violation of state law in the proposed wording.
Near as I can tell, most of Connerly's money went to paid petition circulators. In due course, MCRI organizers presented more than 500,000 signatures in support of the proposed initiative to Michigan's Board of State Canvassers; many of them came from (overwhelmingly African-American) Detroit. Finding this a little odd, opponents took a random sample of 500 petition signers, located the 87 of those 500 who lived in Detroit, and found that nearly all had been given to understand that the initiative would support affirmative action. Among the initial petition signers were two Michigan circuit-court judges; they've provided affidavits that the circulators told them that the petitions favored affirmative action, and that — on that basis — after glancing at the title and lengthy caption language, they signed. It appears that circulators routinely made similar statements (along with the statement that the NAACP favored the proposal).
The Board of State Canvassers held its hearing yesterday, and found itself unable to decide what to do. One Republican member of the Board voted to put the measure on the ballot; another abstained from voting, citing her conviction that fraud had taken place, and urged our state legislature to set up a panel to investigate. The two Democratic members of the Board say that the Board itself should subpoena petition circulators and signers to testify. The state attorney general's office, though, responds that the Board hasn't the authority to do that.
So it all goes now to the courts. Last year, an anti-gay marriage initiative failed to get past the Board of State Canvassers, and the courts reinstated it to the ballot. We'll see if they do it again.