State Fails to Put Affirmative Action on Ballot

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A state elections board on Wednesday failed to comply with a court order to put on the November 2006 ballot a proposal that would ban some affirmative action programs in Michigan.

The four-member Board of State Canvassers deadlocked, with two Republicans voting to put the measure before voters. One Democrat voted against the measure and another did not vote.

The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which is sponsoring the proposal, said it will challenge the decision with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Earlier Wednesday, police officers were called to the meeting after a student protest delayed the vote.

High school students from the Detroit area knocked over an empty table where witnesses give testimony. The table was knocked over as students chanted "They say Jim Crow, we say hell no!" and moved toward the front of the room when the board prepared to vote on the proposal.

Order was restored, and Lansing police said a 17-year-old female was arrested outside the building.

When the meeting resumed, canvassers debated for nearly an hour before voting. A few dozen opponents of the measure shouted and drowned out canvassers as they voted, and board chairwoman Katherine DeGrow, a Republican, relayed the results of the vote as the meeting broke up.

"The board did not conduct the people's business today," DeGrow said afterward. "I assume the court will take action."

Opponents of the ballot initiative sponsored by MCRI have said an undetermined number of signatures were gathered by misinformation about the initiative's goals. A pro-affirmative action coalition says some black people were tricked into signing a petition they thought would protect affirmative action programs.

The MCRI denies the fraud allegations.

The MCRI proposal would ban race and gender preferences in government hiring and university admissions.

About 250 high school students from the Detroit area attended the first part of Wednesday's meeting, brought in by The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary.

The canvassers called the meeting to act on a Michigan Court of Appeals order telling them to put the issue on the ballot.

The canvassers failed to approve or reject the MCRI petitions this summer, prompting the group to seek court action to get on the ballot.

The appeals court ruled in favor of the MCRI in October. The ruling said the canvassers do not have the authority to investigate the fraud allegations.

The appeals court last week issued another order telling the canvassers to act promptly.

The elections board is obligated to certify the petitions, the appeals court said, because there is no dispute that the form of the petitions is proper and that the group collected enough signatures to make the ballot.

State elections bureau officials in July had recommended to the canvassers that the petitions be certified. But a vote to approve the petitions failed to win a bipartisan majority of the four-person board, which has two Democrats and two Republicans.

Canvassers also deadlocked on motions to throw out the petitions and to investigate allegations of fraud.