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Typeface Spells Trouble in Michigan

By JOSEPH B. WHITE, Wall Street Journal

LANSING, Mich.—Just how big is 14-point type? That’s one of the hottest political disputes in Michigan as the state Supreme Court ponders whether a ballot question about fixing the state’s troubled cities and schools should go before voters.

At issue is whether a summary of the question, used on a petition to gather signatures to get the question on the ballot, was written in a type size specified by state law: 14-point boldface. The typeface used on the petition was 14-point Calibri produced by Microsoft Corp.’s Word software, but a dispute has arisen over whether the font renders the type at the full 14-point size.

At stake, depending on which side’s lawyers were talking Wednesday in Michigan Supreme Court, is either a narrow matter of whether statutes about ballot questions should be enforced as written, or a broader philosophical question of whether typographical quirks can be used to block citizens from deciding major issues at the polls.

For more than an hour, justices dug into the history of typography and the intricacies of type sizes. While the arguments at times sounded like a typography seminar, the underlying dispute isn’t academic. It involves a power struggle between the Republican-dominated state government and business leaders on one side, and public-employee unions and city officials on the other.


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