Mich. to appeal ruling against straight-ticket voting ban

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
The state will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that permanently barred Michigan from enforcing a straight-ticket voting ban.

The state will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that permanently barred Michigan from enforcing a straight-ticket voting ban.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson filed a notice of appeal Monday morning, nearly two weeks after Detroit U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain said the state’s GOP-led legislature “intentionally discriminated against African Americans” by banning straight-ticket voting.

The state will be filing an emergency motion for stay alongside the appeal, Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said.

"The state is confident that it will succeed on the merits of the appeal as there is no Fourteenth Amendment violation, no violation of the Voting Rights Act and plaintiffs lack standing to bring this claim," he said in an email. 

Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is running for governor in November, is defending Johnson in the lawsuit. The Midland Republican has "the responsibility to defend state law and that's exactly what we are doing," spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said in an email. 

The state Legislature voted in December 2015 to eliminate straight-ticket voting, arguing the elimination would encourage more informed voting, increase the possibility that a third party could win election, and decrease the likelihood that voters would miss nonpartisan portions of the ballot. Across the country, 40 other states no longer offer the option.

Opponents filed a lawsuit opposing the legislature’s ban in May 2016 on behalf of three Michigan voters and the state chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

The suit, filed by former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer, alleged the ban would disproportionately affect black residents and increase the time it would take them to vote in districts where lines may already be long.

Drain agreed with the reasoning and said the law “reflects racial discriminatory intent harbored by the Michigan legislature, and disparately impacts African-Americans’ opportunity to vote in concert with social and historical conditions of discrimination.”

Evidence and arguments that Republicans were motivated to eliminate straight-ticket voting because it traditionally benefits Democrats indicated such a political maneuver would be “achieved at the expense of African-Americans’ access to the ballot,” said Drain, who was appointed to the bench by former Democratic President Barack Obama.

The plaintiffs in the case will oppose the state’s appeal, said Brewer, citing the judge’s findings of intentional discrimination, discriminatory impact and violations of the Voting Rights Act.

“It’s a very strong decision, solidly grounded in the law and the facts of the case,” Brewer said.


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