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Straight-Ticket Voting Ban Halted By Judge

July 26, 2016

A federal judge today brought back the straight-ticket voting bubble for Michigan voters this November after ruling that the new law eliminating the option disproportionately harms African-American voters.

Judge Gershwin DRAIN, a President Barack OBAMA appointee from 2012, issued a preliminary injunction against P.A. 268, the law ending the single bubble that allows voters to pick every Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or other party candidate on the ballot without taking any further action. Attorney General Bill SCHUETTE and Secretary of State Ruth JOHNSON announced this evening they would be filing an appeal, either Monday or Tuesday of next week. 

If left standing, today’s decision is viewed as a setback for Republicans, who — in supporting the measure — argued for the “purity” of a ballot that makes voters pick individual candidates. But the criticism has remained that Republicans were only inoculating themselves against an unpopular presidential nominee hurting their candidates down ballot. 

“A blatant partisan attempt by Republicans to rig the election,” was how House Minority Floor Leader Sam SINGH (D-East Lansing) described it. 

Senate Majority Leader Arlan MEEKHOF (R-West Olive) strongly recommended the Attorney General appeal the decision, saying he didn’t understand how the new law disenfranchised any voter. 

“You can still vote straight ticket,” Meekhof said. “You just have to check every box.” 

Sen. Tonya SCHUITMAKER (R-Lawton) tweeted that today’s decision is, “Yet another example of an overreaching activist federal judge trying to make policy.” 

However, today’s decision means that if the injunction remains intact, straight-ticket voting in Michigan is sticking around, according to Mary GUREWITZ, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, the Michigan State A. Philip Randolph Institute and three voters — Mary LANSDOWN, Erin COMARTIN and Dion WILLIAMS.

It doesn’t mean straight-ticket voting has returned permanently, though. The suit will still go to trial, and the stay is only imposed pending that outcome. 

Gurewitz said unless the state manages to file an emergency appeal in federal appeals court and have the injunction overturned, general election ballots across the state should have the straight-ticket option. 

Still, Gurewitz is confident the injunction will withstand any challenges. 

“The sixth circuit case law is very favorable,” Gurewitz said. “We are very pleased.” 

Among those also pleased was the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks (MAMC), whose current president urged the Attorney General to not appeal the judge’s ruling until after the November election. 

“An appeal prior to the November election would leave too much uncertainty for our hardworking clerks and elections workers and undoubtedly cause confusion with voters that could affect the integrity of this important election,” said Walker City Clerk Sarah BYDALEK, the current MAMC president. 

Democratic lawmakers also voiced support for the ruling, with Senate Minority Leader Jim ANANICH (D-Flint) saying, “We need to be focused on making it easier for everyone to vote and today’s ruling helps protect that right. Democrats and Republicans have used straight-ticket voting successfully for over 100 years and hopefully those fighting to end it will finally see the error of their ways and give our clerks time to run fair, efficient elections.” 

Drain rested much of his ruling on a report from Kurt METZGER, a U.S. Census Bureau specialist, who found a “direct correlation” between the use of straight-party voting and the African-American community.

Not having straight-party voting then would cause longer wait time and create congestion in African-American voting areas, Drain ruled, based on testimony from Oakland County elections clerk Joseph ROZELL, who estimated that P.A. 268 was going to increase wait time in 40 minutes in his county. 

State lawmakers set aside $5 million to help combat potential longer wait times at the polls, which the court ruled was “woefully insufficient,” saying $30 million would be more adequate. 

The argument that other states don’t offer a straight-ticket bubble “changes none of the facts before this court.” 

“If the Ohio Legislature successfully instituted poll taxes and literacy tests without challenge, it would not change the fact that poll taxes and literacy tests are still clearly unconstitutional burdens on the right to vote,” Drain wrote. 

Also, on the argument that voters could still vote straight ticket by filling in the individual bubbles for each candidate from a particular party, Drain wrote that, “it seems the only purpose behind P.A. 268 is to require voters to spend more time filling more bubbles.”

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