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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer considers amending Michigan constitution amid Vassar allegations: What would that process look like?

November 7, 2023
Governor Gretchen Whitmer during her second inauguration ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023 at the Michigan State Capitol.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer during her second inauguration ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023 at the Michigan State Capitol.

In October, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a press conference that her office were in discussions on  changing how trustees are appointed amid the allegations surrounding MSU board chair Rema Vassar.

The Michigan Constitution currently holds that Michigan State University trustees are voted on in state elections. The trustee board for Wayne State University and University of Michigan are also elected on through a statewide ballot. Other public institutions in the state have their boards appointed by the governor

Whitmer is considering changing this process for the three universities so that those trustees would also acquire their position by governor appointment only

This change would have to happen through an amendment to the Michigan Constitution, which, according to the president of Citizens Research Council Eric Lupher, could take two different routes. 

He said that the amendment needs to be either initiated by the legislature or by high public demand for the amendment

“To initiate it, the House and Senate both have to act," Lupher said. "They need what they call a joint resolution, House Joint Resolution or a Senate Joint Resolution." 

He said that in order for the legislature to initiate the amendment, there needs to be a two-thirds supermajority vote in either the House or Senate.

This amendment would then become a ballot proposal in the next statewide election

In the latest Midterms in Nov. 2022, Proposal 1, which included term limits for state legislator and expanded financial disclosure reports for state elected officials, was created by legislature amendment, which then passed through popular vote. 

The second route to a constitutional change would stem from “the people to initiate the constitutional amendment.” Lupher said that when public demand for the amendment is high enough, the first step would be to create a petition

“People have the right to initiate a constitutional amendment,” he said. “To do that, somebody will draft a petition saying this is what they want to either change a word in the constitution or introduce something new into the constitution with language." 

Lupher said the petition would then move to the Board of State Canvassers to sign off on the language and format of the petition

Lupher said that the petition needs at least as many signatures as 10% of the number of the total votes cast for the governor in the last general election

He said that usually advocates for the amendment will attempt to get more than the required number of signatures to create a constitutional change

“They collect all those, usually they try to get well above that, because there's gonna be signatures of disqualified people who moved, things like that," Lupher said. "Those are submitted to the State Board of canvassers and they go through a way to test those signatures, look for fraud, and try to figure out actually how many." 

If the State Board of canvassers validates the number of petitioners, the amendment will be placed on the ballot at the next general election, according to Lupher

In Nov. 2022, both Proposal 2, known as the "Promote the Vote" initiative, and Proposal 3, which enshrined reproductive rights in the Michigan Constitution, were both proposed through initiative petition for the general public to vote on.

If deemed necessary, Gov. Whitmer could also call a special election to vote on the proposed amendment from the petition without placing the issue on a ballot

According to previous reporting by The State News, she has stated that she will be watching the investigation into Vassar unfold as she considers the amendment

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