Judge won't put immediate stop to Benson's mailing of absentee ballot applications

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A Michigan Court of Claims judge denied a request Thursday to halt Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's mailing of absentee ballot applications to all registered voters ahead of August primary and November general elections. 

Nevin Cooper-Keel, Yvonne Black and serial litigant Robert Davis argued Benson was barred from sending the applications by state law and court precedent prohibiting elected officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications. 

But Judge Cynthia Stephens argued those rules don't reflect the loosened voting restrictions enacted under a voting rights initiative approved by voters in 2018. And those cases, Stephen said, only spoke to "local elections officials," not the secretary of state. 

"...there is some support for the notion that she possesses superior authority as compared to local election officials," wrote Stephens, an appointee of Democratic former Gov. Jennifer Granholm

The judge rejected the request for a preliminary injunction against the mailing announced by Benson May 19, noting voters would not suffer irreparable harm and retained choice in the matter of their vote. 

"Recipients of the applications can choose to fill them out and apply for an absent voter ballot," she said. "Alternatively, recipients may apply by another method, they may ignore the applications altogether or they may even throw away the applications."

Stephens also rejected arguments that the mailing favored early voting or vote by mail. Voters have the same rights as they always did — to vote by mail or vote in person, she said. 

"In either case,the ability of candidates to reach voters right up to election day is the same," the judge said.

The decision comes as Republican lawmakers have voiced mounting concerns about the mailing, election security concerns and the burden it may place on local clerks dealing with a deluge of absentee ballots.