Ballot Questions—Do’s and Don’ts

Kacie Kefgen

By Kacie Kefgen, MASB Assistant Director of Labor Relations and Legal Services

DashBoard, Jan. 18, 2017

Last spring, the U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara issued a permanent injunction barring the Michigan Secretary of State from enforcing the so-called ‘Gag Order Law,’ which severely limited the ability of school districts to communicate with voters about ballot questions, including bond and sinking fund proposals. While there was talk about fixing the statute in question, the problematic language still remains on the books (see Subsection 3).

Where does that leave school districts and boards that plan to put a ballot question to their voters this year?

Essentially right where we were before the 2015 lame duck session when the law passed and was signed by the Governor. Until the Legislature amends that section of law, it will remain on the books, despite it being unenforceable.

School board members and school employees must still follow the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, which prohibits the use of public funds to advocate for or against ballot proposals. As a result, school districts must still use care when disseminating information to ensure that it is factual and doesn’t attempt to influence the outcome of the proposal.

Here are some examples of things that school districts and board members may and may not do:

  • School districts may objectively inform community members of the facts surrounding a ballot proposal that is related to the function of a school district.
  • All information disseminated by a school district relating to a ballot proposal must be factual without expressly advocating for or against the proposal if district funds are used. The factual information need not be balanced or present both sides, but information must be supported by facts, not opinions or conjecture.
  • Board members and school employees may use their own time and equipment to post on social media or draft letters to the editor to express their opinions on a ballot proposal.
  • A district may not give or loan supplies in support of or opposing a ballot proposal.
  • A district may not allow a group supporting or opposing a ballot proposal to use school district facilities or equipment for the purpose of contacting voters, even if the group leases the space or equipment.
  • A district may not use public resources to post on social media in support of a ballot proposal.
  • A school board may discuss its support of or opposition to a ballot proposal at an open meeting, as well as adopt a resolution supporting or opposing the proposal and record the resolution in the meeting minutes. However, the use of public resources to distribute or publicize the resolution beyond the regular provision of factual information regarding actions taken by the board is prohibited.

When there is doubt in determining what is allowed and what isn’t, please contact your district’s legal counsel or the MASB Legal Team at 517.327.5900.

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