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GOP wants to intervene in legal fight over Michigan voting laws

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Republican Party is asking to intervene in a Democratic group's legal challenge to voting laws in Michigan, which is a key battleground in this year's election.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Republican Party and the Republican National Committee requested that a federal judge in Michigan's Eastern District allow them to be added as defendants in a case that's been filed against Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel.

The Democratic super political action committee Priorities USA is challenging a state law that criminalizes organized efforts to help voters deliver absentee ballot applications and another that bars groups from hiring people to bus voters to the polls. The lawsuit was filed Nov. 12.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel alleged in a statement that Democrats were "trying to rig the game with frivolous lawsuits that do nothing but create electoral chaos."

"I vow to utilize RNC resources to aggressively defend the integrity of the democratic process and support the right of all eligible voters to cast an effective ballot, and this includes meeting the Democrats in court," McDaniel added.

Politico reported on Wednesday that the effort in Michigan was part of a $10 million national legal campaign to combat Democratic voting-related lawsuits and build a "massive Election Day operation."

The Republicans' motion to intervene in the Michigan case argued that Nessel would not "adequately" represent their interests.

"Applicants contend that the paid driver ban and absent ballot application harvesting ban are constitutionally valid statutes that the Legislature has enacted to help structure and ensure the integrity of the electoral environment," the motion said.

The attorney who signed the new motion on behalf of the Michigan Republican Party and the Republican National Committee was Kurtis Wilder, a former GOP-nominated justice who lost his re-election bid to continue serving on the Michigan Supreme Court in 2018.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Kurtis Wilder listens to arguments from attorneys in court in Lansing on Nov. 19, 2018.

In its Nov. 12 lawsuit, Priorities USA argued that the ban on organizing efforts to deliver absentee ballot applications "regulates speech." The ban on hiring drivers to transport voters to the polls “make it even more difficult for voters for whom voting is already difficult— in particular, voters without access to private transportation — to vote," the group has argued.

Absentee ballots are expected to play a larger than normal role in the 2020 presidential election after Michigan residents approved a constitutional amendment to allow for no-reason absentee voting in 2018.

Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil slammed the RNC's new legal efforts.

"The RNCs decision to spend millions disenfranchising voters is shameful & un-American," he wrote Thursday on Twitter. "@prioritiesUSA won’t stop fighting voter suppression until every barrier to the ballot box is torn down."

Priorities USA has filed two other lawsuits against Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson challenging voting laws. One focuses on the state's process for determining whether absentee voters' signatures are valid and argues it violates residents' due process and equal protection rights.

Another argues that the treatment by Michigan's automatic registration law of people under the age of 17 ½ and the Legislature’s limits on proof of residency at the time of registration constitute undue burdens on voters' constitutional rights.

It was unclear Thursday whether the RNC and the Michigan Republican Party would also seek to intervene in the other suits.

cmauger@detroitnews.com