Michigan voters confused by unlawful citizenship checkbox on primary ballot
Voting rights supporters applauded Michigan Governor Rick Snyder for vetoing three voter suppression bills the Legislature passed in June. Unfortunately, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson didn’t get the memo. Despite the governor’s concerns about voter confusion (and despite a complete lack of statutory authority following the veto of SB 803) the secretary insisted that she would continue to implement a requirement that every voter reaffirm her U.S. citizenship at every election.
This addition to Michigan’s Application to Vote forms was originally introduced in the February primary, months before the bill was even through the legislature. Not only does the requirement lack statutory authority, it was not promulgated through the required rule-making process of the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act. Nor was preclearance sought under the Voting Rights Act.
Project Vote, ACLU of Michigan, and the Fair Elections Legal Network expressed their concerns about the provision to the bureau of elections. In a letter sent Monday, we requested that elections officials be instructed that they were not to enforce the so-called citizenship “check box.” However, clear direction to the clerks was not issued until nearly noon on primary Election Day.
Before that clarification was issued, at least one voter was completely denied a ballot at his E. Lansing polling location. Well after the directive, the (866) OUR-VOTE hotline and field team continued to receive numerous reports that precinct workers were still withholding ballots until voters affirmed their citizenship. A few knowledgeable and stalwart citizens reported that they had to argue at length – sometimes even requiring a call to the city clerk – before receiving their ballot.
Voting should be simple and accessible, but instead, the checkbox requirement unnecessarily and unlawfully complicates the process. Further confusion and unequal treatment also resulted when—because of Michigan’s decentralized election process—many elections officials ordered forms that omitted the citizenship question entirely.
Project Vote will continue to fight against the citizen affirmation requirement and for the right of all Michigan citizens to vote. Unfortunately, this measure has been reintroduced in the Legislature as SB 1219.