Michigan Must Allow Straight-Ticket Voting

     (CN) — The Sixth Circuit denied Michigan’s request to implement a ban on straight-party voting, allowing voters to easily select all Democrat or all Republican candidates on their November ballots.
     The state’s emergency motion to place the law into effect follows a district court ruling that granted a preliminary injunction against the ban, finding it would increase voting times and disproportionately affect black voters.
     Voters had sued over the law, known as PA 268, in May.
     The law was championed by Republicans and passed last year, eliminating the longstanding Michigan practice of being able to vote entirely for one party with a single mark on a ballot, a practice known as straight-party voting.
     A unanimous Sixth Circuit panel agreed with the district court’s decision and ruled Wednesday to keep the law from affecting the general election in November.
     Judge Karen Moore authored the 15-page opinion and found that the district court’s ruling properly relied on evidence showing that “PA 268 will increase the time that it takes to vote, particularly in African-American communities where straight-party voting is prominent and where lines are often already long.”
     According to the ruling, the most likely voters to use straight-party voting were black Democrats, and the law would likely increase voting times for a state that ranks as the sixth-worst in terms of voting wait times.
     Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican, appealed the lower court’s ruling and argued to the Sixth Circuit that eliminating the practice would only require voters to make multiple selections instead of one.
     Johnson also claimed that ending the 125-year voting practice would not place an unconstitutional burden on voters because most other states do not allow it, and it would decrease the likelihood that voters will skip the nonpartisan section of the ballot.
     However, the three-judge panel was not swayed.
     “The state has offered only vague and largely unsupported justifications of fostering voter knowledge and engagement,” Moore wrote.
     Wednesday’s opinion also said Johnson failed to present expert reports or testimony that would rebut the district court’s findings.
     The Sixth Circuit’s ruling comes only weeks after the Fourth Circuit struck down a restrictive voter ID law in North Carolina.
     In that case, the federal judges found that the Republican-backed law, much like Michigan’s PA 268, unfairly targeted black voters with restrictive ID requirements and limits on same-day voter registration.
     Both rulings echo the Fifth Circuit’s July decision to strike down a Texas voter ID law, which was found to have targeted minorities and would have restricted the forms of ID that were required to vote.
     Texans are now allowed to vote with a paycheck or utility bill in the upcoming presidential election, after a federal judge approved an interim plan last week.
     While Wednesday’s Sixth Circuit ruling is a blow to supporters of PA 268, the fight is not over. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is expected to file a new emergency appeal in the wake of the decision.
     Judges Ronald Gilman and Jane Stranch joined Moore on the three-judge panel.
     “Our ruling today is not the end of the case. We are simply deciding that the Michigan Secretary of State has not met her burden of demonstrating that a stay of the district court’s preliminary injunction is warranted,” Gilman wrote in a three-page concurrence. “Just because the present record supports the district court’s preliminary injunction maintaining the option of straight-party voting for this November’s general election does not mean that the state must always permit straight-party voting.”

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