ACLU Says Michigan’s|Ballot Courts Disaster

     DETROIT (CN) – Michigan added an unconstitutional “Are you a United States citizen?” question to the November ballot, and it must be removed “to avert an election day disaster,” the ACLU and others claim in Federal Court.
     The plaintiffs claim the ballot checkbox disenfranchised voters and created a “calamitous” situation during the August primaries.
     They claim that defendant Secretary of State Ruth Johnson put the checkbox on the August ballots “despite the fact that the governor had recently vetoed a bill adding the same requirement to the Michigan election law, out of concern that it would confuse voters.”
     “As documented below, the results were calamitous. Administration of the citizenship box was handled differently depending on the jurisdiction and precinct, with some voters denied a ballot if they did not complete the checkbox and others able to vote after ignoring it.
     “The confusion was exacerbated when defendant Johnson changed the rules mid-day, with the result that people who voted in the morning were treated differently than those who voted later in the day. The confusion and consternation caused by the checkbox and its inconsistent administration delayed, inconvenienced and probably deterred many voters.”
     Three voters, the Service Employees International Union, Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development and the ACLU sued the secretary of state, seeking declaratory judgment and asking that the checkbox be taken off the November general election ballots.
     “Plaintiffs seek this court’s intervention to avert an election day disaster in the making,” the complaint states. “Acting without any statutory authority and ignoring the procedural requirements of the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson changed the Application for Ballot filled out by absentee voters and by voters in the polling places, by adding a new checkbox that asks the voter to check ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in answer to the question, ‘Are you a United States citizen?'”
     Citing the confusion during the primaries, the plaintiff say, “There can be no question that, unless this court intervenes, defendant’s unconstitutional interference with Michigan voters’ rights in the August primary election will be replayed in the November general election – but on a greatly magnified and much more deleterious scale. Defendant has announced her intention to continue the citizenship checkbox in the November election. However, a number of clerks have questioned her authority and stated their intention not to include it, while others will. The model absentee ballot application on defendant Johnson’s own official website does not have the checkbox, nor does the voter application form that clerks download from the defendant’s qualified voter file. Applications for absentee voter ballots have already been mailed out, some with the checkbox and some without.”
     They add: “Because of defendant’s intransigent insistence on an unnecessary and unjustifiable requirement, many voters will be inconveniences, and perhaps prevented or dissuaded from voting. Second, this impediment to the fundamental right to vote will not burden voters equally. Voters in some jurisdictions will not see the checkbox, while others likely will be denied a ballot if they do not complete it. Moreover, in two Michigan jurisdictions covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the citizenship box cannot legally be implemented since defendant did not obtain preclearance for it from the Department of Justice, further resulting in unequal treatment.”
     Plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the citizenship checkbox is unconstitutional and that violated the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act.
     They are represented by Mary Ellen Gurewitz, with Sachs Waldman, of Detroit.

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