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Federal court won't stay ruling that struck down Michigan's ban on straight-ticket voting

Aug 17, 2016

A federal appeals court has declined to stay a lower court ruling that declared Michigan's ban on straight-ticket voting unconstitutional.

Barring a successful emergency appeal by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the decision means straight-ticket voting will remain available to Michigan voters in November's general election. 

With straight-ticket voting permitted, voters will have the option of supporting a party's entire slate of candidates by filling in a single circle, instead of filling in individual votes for candidates at different levels of government. A previous ruling said the ban on the process violates the right to equal protection under the law guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. 

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday declined a request by Ruth Johnson, Michigan's Secretary of State, to stay the initial decision and at least temporarily preserve the ban. 

U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin Drain said in that ruling last month that the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature's ban on straight-ticket voting places a "disproportionate burden" on black voters.

After the circuit court handed down its ruling, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's office indicated the legal fight isn't over quite yet.

"Michigan is no different than the 40 other states that have eliminated straight ticket voting," said Schuette's press secretary, Andrea Bitely, in a statement. "We will continue to defend the laws of the State of Michigan, and plan to file an emergency appeal to the 6th Circuit for an en banc review by the full court." 

The full court has 15 active judges.

Unless the appeal is successful, the district court's July ruling will remain in effect, and voters will have the option of filling in a single "Republican" or "Democrat" bubble come Nov. 8. 

Gongwer News Service reports that the three judges who issued the unanimous ruling are all appointees of the three most recent Democratic presidents: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

The ban on straight-ticket voting was supported by Republicans in the state legislature. In 2012, 93% of black voters cast their ballots for Barack Obama, while just 6% voted for Republican challenger Mitt Romney.