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Officials ask to delay ruling on straight-ticket voting

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

State election officials are asking a federal judge to delay implementing a court order that strikes down Michigan’s new law banning straight-ticket voting while they appeal the case.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed an emergency motion late Friday asking U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin A. Drain to stay the four preliminary injunctions he issued against state election officials on July 22 that ban enforcement of the new law.

Schuette, in a motion filed by his staff, said he is requesting a decision on the motion by Tuesday “due to the upcoming election deadlines, which are Aug. 16 for final ballot language for the Nov. 8 election and Sept. 24, the day all ballots must be ready to send overseas to members of the U.S. armed forces and to absentee voters.

“Defendant is irreparably harmed by having a statute enacted by its elected representatives enjoined so close in time to the pending election,” Schuette wrote.

Attorney Mark Brewer, who is representing the plaintiffs, said Monday the motion is without merit and he would oppose it in his own court filing. Brewer said he did not expect the judge to issue a decision on Tuesday.

In his 37-page opinion, Drain said the new law will reduce African-Americans’ opportunity to participate in the state’s political process and will put a disproportionate burden on their right to vote.

Drain, an appointee of Democratic President Barack Obama, cited a report by Kurt Metzger, a demographer hired by Brewer, who found a direct correlation between the use of straight-party voting within a community and the black population within that community.

Metzger found 15 Michigan cities with a straight-party voting rate of 65 percent or higher. Of those, two were majority white. The five cities with rates greater than 75 percent were all majority African-American.

Drain’s injunctions are an early win for the three Michigan residents and the state chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute who sued Johnson over the law on May 24.

The order does not affect the Aug. 2 primary, said Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams.

Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature approved the elimination of straight-ticket voting in December. Supporters argued it would encourage a more informed electorate by requiring voters to decide on each individual race and end a policy holdover from the days of big party bosses.

Opponents argued that if each voter is filling out 18 or 30 bubbles rather than just one, each voter will take longer to vote. It would have a ripple effect resulting in longer lines and, for impatient voters or those without the time, possible disenfranchisement, they said.