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Michigan Ballot: Citizenship Question Leads To Confusion, Disenfranchisement At Polls

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Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson added a box to the Michigan Ballot this February asking voters to verify they were U.S. citizens. The questions upset and confused voters during the August seventh primary.
Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson added a box to the Michigan Ballot this February asking voters to verify they were U.S. citizens. The questions upset and confused voters during the August seventh primary.

Michigan voters have to be U.S. citizens to participate in elections. But should they be required to affirm their citizenship at the polls in order to vote? And can that question intimidate voters from participating in their democratic rights?

The citizenship question caused confusion and controversy at voting precincts across the state during Tuesday's primary elections, as voters were faced with checkboxes on their ballot forms asking them to confirm they were U.S. citizens.

At least one voter, Rich Robinson, who happens to be the executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, was turned away from the polls for refusing to answer the question, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Detroit News reports that Chris Thomas, director of the state Bureau of Elections, issued a clarifying statement to county clerks around noon Tuesday.

"If the voter refuses to fill in either YES or NO in response to this question, read this statement: 'Under the Michigan Constitution and election laws you must be a citizen of the United States in order to vote,'" said the statement obtained by the News. "Then issue a ballot to the voter."

The question first appeared on the February presidential primary ballot application form at the request of Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. Last month Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a law that would have required the question.

Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams defended the decision to ask voters for their citizenship status.

"The secretary has the authority to prescribe forms, including ballot application forms. She put that check box on the ballot application," he told MLive, adding that box had been put on the application to prevent those who may have accidentally registered from breaking the law.

Michigan Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer criticized the boxes in a statement that appeared on her Facebook page on Tuesday.

"Johnson's actions today not only showed her disregard for the law and the rights of Michigan voters, but give clear evidence of the disenfranchisement that happens when politics trump common sense in our electoral system," she said.

In her post she urged voters who were turned away at the polls to call the non-partisan Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

In a separate incident Tuesday, voters at the Henry Ford High School polling precinct in Detroit voters were allegedly frisked by a man wearing an Army uniform while trying to gain access to the school, which hadn't been opened on time to accommodate morning voters.

Below, scroll through hypothetical scenarios that demonstrate how strict voter ID laws already enacted in the U.S. could disenfranchise would-be voters of different bents:

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7 Ways You Could Be Disenfranchised
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