A voting rights coalition is taking Michigan's Secretary of State to court over a controversial citizenship checkbox that appeared on primary ballots across the state this past August. The group filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Ruth Johnson Monday in federal court.
The coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, UAW International, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development (LA SED), Ingham County Clerk Michael Bryanton, and registered voters from East Lansing, Shelby Township, and Buena Vista Township.
"The Secretary of State may be the chief election officer in the state, but she is not above the law,” Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said in a release. “By ignoring the administrative rule-making and legislative processes, she has thumbed her nose at the electorate and flouted the very laws she was elected to uphold. We can all agree that it should be easier to vote and harder to cheat, but cynical voter suppression tactics should not be tolerated.”
The lawsuit alleges that the checkbox is not legal because it lacks statutory authority, wasn't put into place following the process laid out in the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act and violates a Voting Rights Act requirement that specifies that a state must seek permission with Justice Department or a federal court before changing election practices that affect voters in some Michigan townships. It also claims that the way the checkbox issue was handled at various polling places across the state violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which requires voting procedures to be implemented uniformly across the state.
A report released last month by the Michigan Election Coalition with WSU law Professor and former Democratic secretary of state candidate Jocelyn Benson said it found incidents involving poll workers telling voters they would be denied ballots, if they didn't sign the checkbox, in Detroit, Lansing, East Lansing, Battle Creek, Ann Arbor, and parts of Oakland County.
In a statement on her website, Secretary of State Johnson said she believes there may be 4,000 non-U.S. citizens mistakenly registered to vote in Michigan, citing a non-partisan Pew Center study that found the state had 102.54% of eligible residents registered in 2008.
Mlive reports that Johnson reached her figure by comparing the 19 percent of U.S. citizenship data she says she has access to with the overall number of non-citizens in the state, leaving out children. After checking 963 confirmed non-citizen registered voters against a qualified voter file, she believes 54 may have voted in the election, according to MLive.
"Elections have been won or lost on far less than 4,000 votes," she said in the statement. "We have to face this issue, not ignore it, or we are doing a disservice to every legitimate voter in Michigan."
Johnson also said her office was trying to protect non-citizens who might mistakenly vote from facing felony charges or deportation.