Politics & Government
1:27 pm
Tue September 18, 2012

Update: Voters' rights coalition sues Secretary of State over citizenship checkbox

As Rick Pluta reported yesterday, a coalition of voters' rights groups has filed a federal lawsuit to prevent Secretary of State Ruth Johnson from including a citizenship question on Michigan's November ballots.

Kary L. Moss, executive director for the ACLU of Michigan, said in a press release that Secretary Johnson was "not above the law."

"By ignoring the administrative rulemaking and legislative processes, she has thumbed her nose at the electorate and flouted the very laws she was elected to uphold. We can all agree that it should be easier to vote and harder to cheat, but cynical voter suppression tactics should not be tolerated," she said.

Other groups included in the suit are UAW International, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development (LA SED), Ingham County Clerk Michael Bryanton, and registered voters from East Lansing, Shelby Township, and Buena Vista Township.

The ballot controversy began this February when Johnson decided to include a citizenship question on ballots for the presidential primary. Then, in July, Governor Rick Snyder vetoed a bill that would have required the citizenship checkbox on ballots. The veto didn't keep the checkbox off the ballots, it just didn't require that the checkbox be there.

In August, the controversy intensified when Campaign Finance Network's Rich Robinson reported he was denied a ballot for not checking the box. Michigan Radio's Lester Graham reported the story.

According to the ACLU press release, the checkbox is unlawful because

it lacks statutory authority; was not promulgated through the required rule-making process of the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act, which requires a public notice and opportunities for public comment and a hearing; and violates the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirement, which requires the state to seek permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes to election practices that impact voters in two Michigan townships, Buena Vista and Clyde.

According to The Detroit Free Press a spokeswoman for Johnson said last week that "Johnson wants to ensure non-citizens get one last chance not to vote, pointing out they could be committing a felony, have large legal fees, be deported or have problems pursuing U.S. citizenship."

Michigan Radio's listeners and Facebook followers responded to the story. Erin Molnar writes that she is not impressed by Johnson's defense:

There is just no reason for this. She says it's to "remind" people they need to be a citizen to vote. Buy an ad in the paper then.

Mlive reports, the case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds in Detroit.

So what do you think? Should the checkbox appear on ballots this November?

- Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom