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BANKOLE THOMPSON

Bankole: Straight ticket wrong fight for AG Schuette

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Attorney General Bill Schuette understands how to seize on opportunities that will bring his office to bear on major and sometimes controversial issues.

Whether it is fighting gay marriage, opposing affirmative action, suing President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act or investigating issues in the Flint water crisis, all in the name of defending the Constitution, Schuette knows when to strike. Because it puts him at the center of the debate.

But sometimes I wonder if Michigan’s attorney general knows when to pull back and realize that some fights are not winnable.

His latest battle is seeking to overturn a July 21 ruling by U.S. District Judge Gershwin A. Drain, that straight-ticket voting will negatively impact black voters.

The ruling nullified a legislative action last December outlawing straight-ticket voting.

The practice allows voters to choose candidates of a party by marking a single ballot as opposed to going through every candidate on the ballot.

Straight-ticket voting has been in existence for the last 125 years and it’s only twice in Michigan history — in 1964 and 2001— that there were unsuccessful attempts to cancel it.

Many local election officials around the state, including city clerks, opposed the legislative ban.

Why?

It will create long lines on Election Day because asking voters to mark every candidate on the entire ballot — no matter the number of candidates — will take a lot of time.

In 2016, state leaders should be making it easier for people to vote, not supporting measures that will add more lines at the polls.

Advocates say that under straight-ticket voting, the more attractive the candidates at the top of a party’s ticket cna lead to votes for candidates in the minor races that might otherwise get ignored by voters.

Judge Drain in his ruling cited a study by Kurt Metzger, chairman emeritus of Data Driven Detroit and the mayor of Pleasant Ridge, that found that the five Michigan localities where more than 75 percent of voters utilized the straight-ticket voting option all had majority black populations.

The study noted that in 2014, more than 75 percent of voters in Detroit used the straight-ticket voting process. The same was the case with other majority black cities like Flint (75.2 percent), Inkster (78.2 percent), Highland Park (82 percent) and Royal Oak Charter Township (82.1 percent).

Schuette appealed the ruling, which validated claims by opponents of the ban that African-American voters could be disenfranchised, to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

The appeals court on Aug. 17 handed down a decision by a three-judge panel of Karen Moore, Jane Stranch and Ronald Gilman upholding the earlier ruling from Detroit’s federal court.

“The district court credited unrebutted evidence in the record demonstrating that the ban will increase the time that it takes to vote, particularly in African American communities where straight-party voting is prominent and where lines are often already long. The district court also found that the law was likely to increase voter confusion and miscast ballots,” the judges from Cincinnati wrote.

Schuette has vowed to file an emergency appeal with the entire Sixth Circuit Court, saying, “Michigan is no different than the 40 states that have eliminated straight-ticket voting. We will continue to defend the laws of the state of Michigan.”

Mark Brewer, an attorney and former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party who took the case to federal court, said Schuette’s appeal will create problems for election clerks who should be preparing for the November election.

What Schuette is doing is feeding into a narrative that Republicans politicians have been pushing measures to hinder black people from voting.

His efforts stand to undermine the sanctity of the Voting Rights Act, which every elected official should jealously guard by ensuring that impediments to voting are removed.

That is why if the state’s attorney general does decide to run for governor, he will likely have to answer questions about his actions regarding straight-ticket voting.

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson” on Super Station 910 AM Wednesdays and Fridays. His column appears Mondays and Thursday.

bankole@bankolethompson.com