Michigan's high court won't hear challenge to absentee ballot applications mailing

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The Michigan Supreme Court said Tuesday it would not consider a case filed before the election that challenged Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's authority to mail out absentee ballot applications to all of Michigan's registered voters ahead of the August and November elections. 

In a 6-1 decision, the GOP-majority high court denied an appeal by serial litigant Robert Davis of Highland Park because the court was not persuaded it should review the claim and the motion is now moot. 

State of Michigan Supreme Court seal in The Hall of Justice in Lansing.

Republican-nominated Justice David Viviano dissented, noting that a partial dissent in the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling raised "a number of issues" regarding Benson's authority to mail the applications. 

State Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled in August that Benson had the power to issue the applications because she outranked "those local election officials over whom she has supervisory control." In September, a Court of Appeals panel upheld Stephens' ruling 2-1, noting Benson had "inherent" authority to mail the applications. 

Republican leaders had questioned Benson's May mailing, arguing that Michigan's decentralized election system prevented Benson from taking over what is usually the purview of Michigan's more than 1,500 local clerks. 

GOP lawmakers also criticized the decision because some applications were mailed to people who were dead or moved, but had yet to be removed from the state's qualified voter file. Benson said it served as a good opportunity to update the state's voting lists as people alerted the office to wrong recipients.

Additionally, voters still are required to mail in those signed applications to receive a ballot. The signatures on the application envelope is matched to the signature on file for a voter and that voter is marked in a master list, or qualified voter file, as having received an absentee ballot. 

The absentee ballot also is signed and the signature is verified before the ballot is sent to tabulating boards to be counted.

Voting groups and political parties, including the state Republic and Democratic parties have long been able to mail out applications to potential voters, sometimes sending several to the same address.

Davis said the issue was an "important legal question" that the high court should have addressed long before the August and November elections. 

"To say the least, the Secretary of State's unlawful actions of improperly advising local clerks to unlawfully mass mail unsolicited absentee voter applications to registered voters was irresponsible and provided a basis for individuals on the right to challenge lawfully cast votes in the City of Detroit," Davis said.