of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission Regarding
Background of the Case
This report is written to document the results of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) efforts over a five month period from January to June 2006, to investigate allegations of voter fraud perpetrated by the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) and its agents.
The investigation focused on the conduct that took place in the gathering of signatures for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. Specifically, these allegations involve acts of deception and misrepresentation in the signature gathering process.
On June 27, 2003, the United States Supreme Court upheld the use of affirmative action (1) by the University of Michigan in Grutter v Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 288 F.3d 732 (2003). Shortly thereafter, the MCRI initiated a ballot petition drive in support of an initiative to nullify this landmark civil rights decision. The MCRI seeks to amend the Michigan Constitution to prohibit the use of affirmative action in public employment, public education, and public contracting on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.
From the very beginning, the language on the ballot has been a matter of contention. In 2003, the Board of State Canvassers approved the ballot language and form. The circuit court, however, held that Rthe form did not comply with State elections law. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court order in Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action & Integration v Board of State Canvassers, 262 Mich App 395; 686 NW2d 287 (2004). Instead of continuing to circulate petitions to place the issue on the ballot for the 2004 election MCRI began to circulate new petitions, with identical language, to place the issue on the 2006 ballot.
On January 6, 2005, MCRI submitted 508,159 petition signatures for the November 2006 ballot. The number of valid signatures required was 317,7572 (2). The State Board of Canvassers has neither approved nor rejected the language for the 2006 ballot initiative because the Board failed to reach a decision as to whether or not there was substantial
In an October 31, 2005, opinion the Court stated:
On March 29, 2006, the Michigan Supreme Court denied application for leave to appeal thereby upholding the decision of the Court of Appeals. There is currently pending before the court a motion for reconsideration filed on April 18, 2006, by Operation King's Dream. It is on behalf of this pending motion for reconsideration of the March 29, 2006 Order denying application for leave to appeal that this report is being filed.
Michigan Civil Rights Commission as an Interested Party
The Constitution of the State of Michigan reads:
Article V, Section 29 establishes a civil rights commission and addresses membership, duties, and appropriation. It reads:
Article 2 Sec. 209 and Sec. 210 of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act reads:
Article 7 of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act at 37.2705 (1) reads:
The MCRC rules at 37.22 read:
During the fall and winter of 2005 MCRC became aware of allegations that MCRI petition circulators targeted African American voters in their own communities. Citizens complained that circulators, who were African American, had misrepresented and misled signers into believing the amendment to be placed on the ballot was in favor of affirmative action. The testimony at the hearings confirmed that the areas in which signatures were gathered were not selected arbitrarily or haphazardly, but rather in deliberate and calculated manner. African American circulators, some of whom did not understand the ballot proposal, were sent into these areas and unsuspecting African American voters were lured into signing the petition. From the public hearing testimony, these citizens believe that the actual ballot proposal is inapposite and incongruous to their own personal and firmly held beliefs about civil rights and affirmative action.
When an issue such as the MCRI petition drive arises that may dramatically change the statutes that the MCRC and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) enforce, the MCRC and MDCR closely monitor the issue. This is especially true in the case of the MCRI because it impacts both the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and the way discrimination is defined under the Michigan Constitution.
Moreover, in following the media coverage of the MCRI ballot initiative it was clear that a substantial number of people were confused as to whether the initiative would protect the traditional use of affirmative action or eliminate the traditional use of affirmative action in public education, public employment and public contracting.
The Michigan Department of State Bureau of Elections recognized the confusion caused by the wording of this language. On January 20, 2006, new language was proposed by the Board of Elections and approved by the State Board of Canvassers as the official ballot language. For the first time, the MCRI was identified as a proposal to ban affirmative action programs in public education, employment and contracting.
Christopher Thomas, Director of the Bureau of Elections, indicated to the MDCR that the Bureau only has jurisdiction to investigate allegations of fraud in the actual voting process, and not in the gathering of petition signatures necessary to place an initiative on the ballot. Therefore, when the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the State Board of Canvassers did not have jurisdiction to investigate fraud in the gathering of petitions, the MCRC felt compelled to hear the testimony of concerned citizens. 
The Public Hearings Process
The MCRC convened a public hearing in Detroit on January 11, 2006, to hear testimony of fraud.
Citizens traveled from across the state to provide testimony at the Detroit hearing. For example, Sammy Williams from Benton Harbor and several individuals from Flint traveled to Detroit to testify. After the second hearing, held in Flint, the public response to the hearings intensified, and the commission scheduled two additional hearings in Lansing and Grand Rapids.
The Commission sought inclusion of all views on this issue and invited MCRI to attend the hearings. The response from MCRI was to release a statement issued by Jennifer Gratz, Executive Director of MCRI. In the statement Ms. Gratz stated:
Ms. Gratz also stated that the allegations of fraud in the circulation of petitions have been reviewed by the Bureau of Elections, the appropriate body to investigate election claims, and have been found to be without merit.
These statements were incorrect at best, and intentionally misleading, at worst. Ms. Gratz and MCRI petitioned the court to restrict the Board of Canvassers from conducting a thorough review of the conduct of MCRI circulators. To date, the public hearings convened by MCRC and this report represent the only review of MCRI circulator conduct.
With the exception of public officials who attended to give welcoming remarks, all testimony was taken under oath and transcribed by Network Court Reporting Service. People of all ages provided testimony. This included students who testified about how their parents and relatives were deceived, union representatives who testified about the deception of their members, and senior citizens who spent their entire lives fighting against racism and supporting affirmative action who found that their names appeared on a ballot petition to eliminate affirmative action, without their knowledge.
The citizens who testified presented credible and compelling evidence about deliberate and orchestrated fraud committed by circulators. Although the testimony came from both African American and White citizens, it became clear to the MCRC that the conduct of the circulators was not limited to a small number of isolated incidents, but rather a strategy that targeted African American citizens on a statewide basis. The petition circulators frequently chose locations where it would be expected that a large number of supporters of affirmative action would congregate, such as churches and community  gatherings in African American neighborhoods. It was at these venues that African American circulators would ask voters to sign a petition to support affirmative action. In order to have as much information as possible to assist the Court, and to have a fully informed Commission, the MCRC issued a Commission Order for MCRI to produce evidence. The requested evidence would assist MCRC in identifying circulators and their managers, and to determine what they were told about how to gather petitions and what they actually were telling voters who signed the petition.(5) MCRI refused to comply with the narrowly tailored order that was issued under the authority of the MCRC as codified in the Michigan Constitution, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and the Rules of the MCRC.(6) Without the information requested in the MCRC Order and without the voluntary cooperation of MCRI to answer questions and concerns about the petition gathering process the MCRC cannot make an educated analysis of who is actually at the root of the fraud that has occurred.
Testimony at Public Hearings
Three groups or themes emerged from the public hearing testimony.
The first and primary group consists of citizens who claim to have personally been victims of fraud and deceit. These citizens signed the ballot petition under the belief that they were signing a petition in support of continuing affirmative action. This group also includes circulators who voluntarily testified about their role in these specific deceptive events. Some of these witnesses testified that they were prevented or not given the opportunity to read the petition before signing. Others stated that they did not take the time to read the petition because they believed the comments made by the circulator. These comments included representations that they were signing a document to support the minimum wage, a document to support affirmative action and/or a document to protect civil rights. A complete record of witness testimony is set forth in the attached transcripts.
The second group included citizens who offered anecdotal or observational testimony about friends and/or relatives who signed the MCRI petition under the belief that they were signing a petition to support affirmative action. This group also consisted of citizens who were approached by circulators, but who did not personally sign the petition because they were previously aware of its true purpose or because they read the petition and understood it to be an anti- affirmative action petition.
The third group included citizens who were neither directly or indirectly involved in the petition signing process, but who voiced outrage that in their view, such reprehensible conduct occurred and that no action was taken to void the petitions or to punish the organizers of the petition drive.
Testimony in Detroit
The first public hearing was held at Cadillac Place in Detroit on January 11, 2006. Approximately 450 concerned citizens attended this hearing; a number well over the venue seating capacity.
Ruthie Stevenson, President of the Macomb County Chapter of the NAACP, testified that she was approached outside the Mt. Clemens Post Office by an MCRI circulator. She was asked to sign a petition about affirmative action and was told by the circulator that Ruthie Stevenson supported the petition. Ms. Stevenson stated that she told the circulator, "I'm Ruthie Stevenson, and I'm not in support of this divisive initiative," and the circulator walked away. Ruthie Stevenson also read an affidavit of Noah Felix who was also told by a circulator that Ruthie Stevenson supported the petition.
Six representatives from AFSCME Local 207 testified that they and other members of the Local were tricked, duped and misled into signing the MCRI petition. Local 207 represent the Detroit water and sewer treatment workers.
In addition to voters being given fraudulent information about the MCRI petition, Sammy Williams, an African-American circulator, testified that he was told the petition was for affirmative action. Williams further testified that if he had known it was to ban affirmative action he never would have signed or circulated it.
In addition to hearing testimony from 28 citizens in Detroit, the MCRC received 218 affidavits and documents signed by citizens who state they were misled or fraudulently induced to sign the ballot petition.
Of particular note are a letter written by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert L. Ziolkowski and an affidavit signed by Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Archie L. Hayman.
Judge Ziolkowski stated that he was approached by a circulator to sign a pro-affirmative action petition while shopping at a pharmacy in Detroit. After signing the petition, he heard customers talking about the representations made by the circulator. Judge Ziolkowski confronted the circulator and verified that the circulator's representations were false. The circulator told Judge Ziolkowski that she was instructed to present the MCRI as a pro-affirmative action ballot proposal.
The hearing in Detroit ended at 8:47 pm, with over 20 citizens still waiting to testify. During the hearing, MCRC Commissioner Kelvin Scott asked that a second hearing be scheduled in Flint to accommodate people who were unable to give testimony due to time constraints.
Testimony in Flint
A second hearing before the MCRC was held on February 8, 2006, at the Mott Center on the University of Michigan Flint Campus. Approximately 200 citizens were present.
The Commission received sworn testimony from 31 citizens and received 106 affidavits from citizens concerned about their experience with MCRI petition circulators.
The MCRC heard repeated testimony that petition circulators represented the proposed constitutional amendment for which they were soliciting signatures as being "in support of affirmative action" and civil rights. As former Flint Mayor Woodrow Stanley stated, "I don't remember the exact words, but I know the pitch was not, 'Do you want to sign a petition to get rid of affirmative action?' That is not what was said on any of the three occasions when I had an opportunity to encounter circulators."
Ms. Kathleen Butler stated that when she asked the circulator if this petition was for affirmative action, the circulator answered "Yes." She stated, "I'm very upset that I was duped into signing this petition. I feel like I was lied to, deliberately lied to. I never, ever would sign a petition like this."(7)
Ms. Kim Peterson stated that a petition circulator told them that the petition was against discrimination and "for affirmative action." She read the proposed amendment and determined this was not at all "for" affirmation action and she did not sign the petition.
James Edwards, Fred Anthony, and William Allen each stated that a petition circulator had told them that the petition was against discrimination and "for affirmative action."
Another woman, Ms. Heather Miller, brought affidavits from five circulators who affirmed that they did not realize that they were circulating a petition that was against affirmative action.
Reverend Willie Hill stated that he was told by a circulator that the petition was to keep affirmative action. It was reported that petitioners also told signers that the amendment
Ms. Deidre Belton stated that she believes circulators who were incompetent and unable to question or comprehend the nature of the proposal on the petition, were intentionally recruited by MCRI so that they would disingenuously mislead potential signers.
Others commented about the fact that so many signatures were obtained in urban communities with largely African American residents. About one-quarter of the total number of signatures gathered by MCRI are likely from African American individuals. It was felt that these communities were targeted by MCRI who hired African American circulators, suggesting to them that the petition drive would ensure civil rights. In turn the African American circulators, motivated by money, unwittingly persuaded fellow African Americans to sign a petition for an amendment that they would not have knowingly supported.
Kathryn Blake testified about how a black female circulator at the Flint African American festival tricked a substantial number of African Americans (including Katherine Williams the CEO and curator of the Museum of African Ancestry and Research Center) to sign the petition, saying it is for affirmative action.
The hearing ended at 9:00 pm by prior agreement with the venue. When the hearing ended, there were still over a dozen citizens who had requested to speak to the Commission, but due to time constraints could not be heard.
Testimony in Lansing
The third hearing was conducted at Gier Park Community Center in Lansing, Michigan on May 8, 2006. Approximately 125 individuals attended.
In Lansing, testimony again revealed that citizens had been subjected to misleading statements and intentionally presented with misinformation by MCRI petition circulators.
At this hearing, a petition circulator, Reverend Nathaniel Smith, described the petitioner orientation that he attended. He stated that petitioners (about 35 to 40 African American persons) were told that this ballot proposal was about keeping and maintaining civil rights. He had no idea that he was circulating a petition against affirmative action until a citizen told him. He stated that he then read the proposal and was humiliated and embarrassed when he realized that he had gathered at least 500 signatures that would place this type of amendment on the ballot. He stopped gathering signatures. He stated that he believed hundreds of people had signed the petition under false pretenses.
A state representative from the Lansing area, Mr. Michael Murphy, declared that he and other state representatives had repeatedly heard from constituents that they had been tricked into signing the MCRI petition. These constituents had been told that successful
A 17 year old high school student from Detroit, Jevon Cochran, relayed how his grandfather, aunts and uncles were tricked into signing the MCRI petition. One of his aunts was approached at Wayne State University and given misinformation; she also signed the petition.
Shirley Schwartz, a citizen who strongly supports affirmative action, stated that she was at a University of Michigan function when an African American woman who was circulating the petition approached her. When she asked the circulator about the petition, she was told that it was for affirmative action. She believed that she and many others, who were waiting in line to sign the petition, were misled by the circulator.
Joyce Schon presented 31 affidavits from voters to the commission. She stated that these individuals saw their names on a website that identified MCRI petition signers. These people were visibly upset to discover that they had signed something that could lead to the end of affirmative action. All explained how the ballot language was misrepresented to them by the circulator.
Michigan State University Professor William Allen, the only MCRI supporter to testify at any of the four hearings, testified that he found the petition to be clearly understandable and not misleading.
Some citizens voiced concern regarding illegal procedures employed by MCRI circulators. For example, Ms. Debra Gomez stated that she signed a petition that was left on a table in her housing complex with no circulator present. This is contrary to the affidavit signed by the circulator that affirms he or she has observed the citizen signing the petition.
Testimony in Grand Rapids
The fourth and final hearing was held in Grand Rapids at the Grand Rapids Public Schools Administrative Offices on May 22, 2006. The auditorium held 250 people and the seating was at capacity, including "standing room only." Others not able to get into the "packed" auditorium were watching on a monitor in the hallway outside of the auditorium.
Robert Womak, who hosts a radio talk show on WJNZ, 1140 AM, targeted to the African-American community, testified about allegations of fraud that he heard from callers when he read the names of Grand Rapids petition signers on his radio program. One granddaughter called in and said her grandmother's name was on the petition but that she can't read or write, and seldom leaves the house. Others called in and said their
Several voters in Grand Rapids including Deron Jackson and Tina Belbot testified that they signed the petition after being told it was a petition to raise the minimum wage.
Robert Davidson testified that he and his wife were registering voters in front of a store in Kalamazoo when he saw a ballot circulator who was mainly approaching only Black citizens and asking them if they wanted to sign a petition for affirmative action. Davidson testified that he knew the MCRI petition was going around and after telling a few people to read the petition before they signed it, the circulator subsequently got into his truck and drove off.
Lupe Ramos Montigny is a teacher, political and community activist and a self described product of affirmative action. Ms. Montigny stated she signed the petition without reading it because she was asked by an MCRI circulator if she wanted to protect affirmative action.
Rosie Smith testified that her name appeared on the signature list in support of MCRI. However, Ms. Smith said her name appeared as Rosie Lee Smith and she never uses Lee and only signs as Rosie L. Smith. She stated that she doesn't remember signing any petition in support of MCRI.
Edwina Cervantes stated that she was asked to sign a petition to increase the minimum wage and later found her name as an MCRI ballot proposal signature.
Dannee Mayhue stated that she never signs her middle name Dannee Sue Mayhue as it appeared on the ballot petition.
Quincy Watson testified that his friend was circulating the MCRI petition and insisted that it was to preserve affirmative action. Mr. Watson stated that he went with his friend to meet the individuals who were employing his friend as a circulator. It was a husband and wife team. Mr. Watson further stated that he asked these agents of MCRI to confirm that the petition was for affirmative action. They declined to do so. The friend was being paid $1.50 per signature.
The MCRC approached the public hearing process in an objective, inclusive manner. Every effort was made to obtain testimony from MCRI including the issuance of a valid, lawful, narrowly tailored Order to produce relevant information. The failure of MCRI to comply with the MCRC Order effectively precluded a complete assessment of these allegations.
Hundreds of concerned citizens attended the four MCRC hearings. They did so in many cases after working all day and often driving long distances. The hearings were crowded and in some cases uncomfortable. Still, the people came and stayed to give and hear testimony, and to support their families, friends, and neighbors who also attended the hearings.
The results of MCRC hearings were not based on the actions of a few disgruntled opponents of MCRI who are putting forth baseless claims of fraud. At least two circuit court judges believed they were deceived into signing the petition, as does Hannah McKinney, the Mayor of Kalamazoo. Attorneys, educators and other professionals have also testified or signed affidavits as to how they were purposely tricked and deceived into signing the petition. The MCRC believes that the number of people who have come forward is just the tip of the iceberg. There is substantial credible testimony that MCRI's efforts to change the Constitution of the State of Michigan rest on a foundation of fraud and misrepresentation.
Findings and Recommendations
The Commission, in light of the testimony obtained during the public hearing process, makes the following findings and recommendations:
. . . The instances of misrepresentation regarding the content of the MCRI ballot language are not random or isolated. These acts occurred across the state, in multiple locations in the same communities, and over long periods of time.
. . . The impact of the acts of misrepresentation is substantial. It appears that the acts documented in this report represent a highly coordinated, systematic strategy involving many circulators and, most importantly, thousands of voters.
. . . The events at issue in this report highlight the gap between two responsibilities: first, the responsibility of voters to read and understand the content of ballot language when signing a circulator's petition; second, the responsibility of MCRI and its agents to be truthful. A failure of the first responsibility should not permit abrogation of the second. The conduct of MCRI to avoid false and misleading statements is of paramount importance irrespective of all other events.
. . . In the absence of intervention by the Michigan Attorney General or an Order of the Michigan Supreme Court, victims of voter fraud perpetrated by MCRI and/or agents of MCRI in the gathering of ballot signatures lack relief or remedy. The Secretary of State Bureau of Elections lacks jurisdiction and the Michigan Board of Canvassers has been restricted, as a result of MCRI litigation, from investigating the conduct of circulators.
. . . The Michigan Supreme Court should reconsider and grant Leave to Appeal to Operation King's Dream in the matter of Michigan Civil Rights Initiative v. Board of State Canvassers 206 Mich App 506 (2005).
. . . The Michigan Supreme Court should exercise its jurisdiction in equity to address this matter as provided by the Constitution or by law. MCR7.301(A)(7)
. . . The Michigan legislature should support strong preventative laws to prevent similar acts of misconduct in the future.
[Ed -- this report, introduced by a letter to the Governor, is online in pdf here ]