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Straight-ticket voting restored in Michigan after "shoddy" appeal

Jack Lessenberry

Update 1:55 p.m.:

Attorney General BIll Schuette has filed an emergency application for a stay with the U.S. Supreme Court to stop straight-ticket voting from being allowed in Michigan.

Original post:

Well, it now seems almost certain that on November 8th, Michigan voters will be able to fill in one little oval and cast what’s called a straight-ticket vote for a political party’s entire list of candidates for all offices.

Michigan Republicans have tried hard to outlaw that practice because they think it hurts their candidates more – especially for so-called “down-the-ballot” jobs like state board of education and trustees of the University of Michigan. The Legislature outlawed straight-ticket voting last year.

They’ve done that twice before, by the way.

Both times, angry Michigan voters promptly signed petitions, put it on a statewide ballot, and repealed the ban. This time, wily Republicans stuck a token financial appropriation in the law repealing straight-ticket voting to make sure voters couldn’t do that again.  

Governor Rick Snyder signed the bill in January, and it appeared that straight-ticket voting was finally dead in our state. But it ain’t over 'til it’s over.

Democrats took it to federal court. In July, U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain overturned the new law and reinstated straight-ticket voting. In blisteringly harsh but moving words, he said eliminating straight-ticket voting was unconstitutional because it would help disenfranchise minority voters.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, on behalf of his fellow Republican, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, quickly went above his head, to the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Two weeks ago, a three-judge panel from that court unanimously upheld Judge Drain’s decision overturning the law preventing straight-ticket voting.

Not only did they agree with the district judge that the ban would make it harder for African-Americans to vote, they said it would lead to more voter confusion and miscast ballots.

And in something that went mostly unreported, one of the judges, Ronald Gilman, harshly criticizedJohnson and Schuette for essentially filing a shoddy appeal, because she, “for whatever reason, did not timely submit any proof contradicting the plaintiff’s evidence.”

Schuette then tried to go over their heads, and asked all sixteen judges, most of them appointed by Republican presidents, to hear his appeal. But a majority wouldn’t take his case.

Schuette’s only remaining recourse would be to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, but the chances of that would be slim indeed, let alone in time for this election. The results of these rulings will probably matter most to people like Tom McMillan and Nicolette Snyder, the Republican candidates for the State Board of Education.

The GOP lost eight of nine education races two years ago, when the top of its ticket, Governor Snyder, was reelected by 128,000 votes. If Donald Trump loses Michigan by the nearly half-a-million margin of Mitt Romney’s loss, how well do you think Republican education candidates will do this year? But if McMillan and Snyder lose, they shouldn’t blame the courts.

They should blame Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof and Senate Elections Chair Dave Robertson, who claimed they outlawed straight ticket voting so the voters could make informed choices –but then contemptuously refused to do anything to make it easier for people to vote, including allowing us all to have absentee ballots.

The Republicans’ naked desire to suppress Democratic votes was totally transparent. And it will now cost them, big-time.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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