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Michigan Emergency Manager Law Referendum Petitions Not Certified

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MICHIGAN EMERGENCY MANAGER LAW
Flanked by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville R-Monroe, left, and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, right, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, prepares to deliver his State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. State Republicans passed Public Act 4, enhancing the powers of Michigan's emergency managers, and the law now avoids a statewide referendum after elections officials on Thursday denied a petition drive seeking to place it on the ba | AP

This story has been updated.

Michigan's Board of Canvassers deadlocked on a vote Thursday and failed to certify more than 200,000 signatures seeking a referendum on the state's emergency manager law, Public Act 4.

Despite a recommendation from Bureau of Elections staff that the board certify the petitions, Republicans on the board supported a challenge seeking to disqualify them over one section's font size. The board's two Democrats said the petitions should be certified.

The petitions seek to place a referendum on Public Act 4 on the state ballot in November. The effort's sponsors, a coalition called Stand Up For Democracy, hope voters will overturn the law, which allows state-appointed emergency managers significant power over financially distressed local municipalities and school districts.

If the referendum push succeeds, the current law would be suspended until the November vote. Michigan has emergency managers in four cities and three school districts, and the law informs provisions of a recent financial consent agreement between the state and the city of Detroit.

The state Bureau of Elections found the petition included 203,238 signatures, 40,000 more than the number needed to place the question on the November ballot.

But the conservative group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility challenged the petitions' validity, claiming the typeface used in their headings was too small.

A memo from Christopher M. Thomas, the secretary of the Board of State Canvassers, noted the previous challenges to type size and formatting of petitions had been unsuccessful if the substance of the petitions and the number of valid signatures was clear. Thomas found only one example of a successful challenge to a petition based on font size. "The applicable legal standard by which this petition should be measured is one of substantial compliance," he wrote.

But the board's Republicans chose to take a strict interpretation of the typeface code. According to the Detroit News, Board of Canvassers member Jeffrey Timmer works for the political consulting firm that pushed the font-size challenge.

Another board member, Julie Matuzak, a Democrat, works for one of the unions participating in the petition drive, the News also reports.

MLive reports crowd members shouted, "Shame! Shame!" following the vote. The question will now likely go to the state Court of Appeals.

Stand Up For Democracy attorney Herb Sanders noted the "substantial compliance" rule mentioned by Thomas, the Detroit News reports. The group also maintains that the petitions used the required 14-point font.

"If we are wrong, then the scientifically accepted formula for determining font size is wrong, if we are wrong then the Court of Appeals is wrong ... if we are wrong than [sic] Democracy is wrong," Sanders said.

This is a developing story. Check back here for updates. For full coverage of emergency managers in Michigan, check out HuffPost's big news page.

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