Ever since allies of Donald Trump in Michigan failed to stall the certification of Joe Biden’s win in 2020, they have pursued a methodical purge of election officials who affirmed the results, replacing them with new canvassers who wanted to overturn the election—and who could thwart the will of voters in the future.
Conservatives put their cards on the table sooner than expected. With Trump’s possible comeback bid still two years away, Republican members of Michigan’s State Board of Canvassers last week blocked two proposed constitutional amendments regarding abortion rights and voting rights. They flouted the usually-decisive recommendation of the state’s Bureau of Elections, which had determined that both measures received more than enough signatures to appear on the November ballot.
The state Supreme Court intervened on Thursday in a pair of 5-2 decisions that will put both amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot, meaning Michiganders will decide whether to codify the right to access abortion in the state constitution and whether to expand ballot access by strengthening a slate of voting procedures like mail-in voting.
But this also marks a failure for Michigan Republicans’ trial balloon for subverting future elections, whether the 2024 presidential race or the midterms. Once again, GOP canvassers weaponized their role in the long chain of custody over election processes, and this time they stayed unified long enough to halt routine procedures. But a majority on the high court did not blink, signaling that they are willing to act as a backstop—and could again in the future.
“It was dangerous for democracy when Canvassers in Michigan said they would refuse to certify the election results in 2020,” Josh Douglas, a University of Kentucky professor specialized in election law, told Bolts. “The Michigan Supreme Court’s decision on both of these initiatives show that refusing to put these issues on the ballot was the same kind of overreach.”
For Leah Litman, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, the sequence of events at least establishes a precedent for how the state’s high court could intervene after the 2022 or 2024 elections if GOP canvassers similarly attempt to block results.
But that road map would only work “if the court stays the same,” she added.
Two justices on the Michigan Supreme Court are running for re-election in November—Democrat Richard Bernstein, who voted with the majority on Thursday, and Republican Brian Zahra, one of the dissenters. The GOP would flip the seven-member court if it sweeps both seats. On the one hand, that would not have been enough to change Thursday’s rulings since Republican Elizabeth Clement voted with the four Democrats. Four of the justices who voted to restore the amendments on Thursday—enough for a majority—have terms that are meant to last through the end of 2026.
Still, the two rulings were handed down almost along party lines and Clement did not write an opinion in either, leaving some uncertainty over how a higher-profile partisan confrontation over a presidential election would unfold. The next two years could also bring an unforeseen vacancy on the court, which would be filled by whomever wins November’s governor’s race between Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Tudor Dixon, who is endorsed by Trump and has falsely said the 2020 election was stolen.