Friday, September 9, 2016

Supreme Court Shuts Down MI Push to Eliminate Straight-Ticket Voting

The Supreme Court on Friday denied an emergency request from Michigan to reinstate a ban on “Straight-Ticket” voting, a mechanism that allows people to vote for every candidate in a Party’s ticket by marking a single box on a ballot. The case is Johnson v Michigan State A. Philip Randolph Institute, 16A225. The vote was 6-2.

The Court’s order indicates that at least two justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, would’ve allowed the ban to go into effect.

This development can be seen as a victory for voting rights advocates, who have argued that restricting straight-ticket voting would exacerbate wait times and create confusion at the polls, with the likely result that many Michigan residents, especially black voters, would not get a chance to vote at all.

In a statement, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) defended the Straight-Ticket ban but accepted the High Court’s pronouncement. “It is my duty to defend Michigan’s laws, in this case a law that stands in 40 other states,” Schuette said. “Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken and I will respect that decision.”

Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of State, said in an email that the State will now move to finalize ballots and have them ready by Sept. 24, when Absentee voting is set to begin. “In light of today’s U.S. Supreme Court action, the department will certify the November ballot and voting a straight-party ticket will be an option for voters for partisan races,” Woodhams said.

A Federal Judge in May had put the Straight-Ticket voting ban on hold ahead of the November election, reasoning that the long-standing practice was favored by black voters in prior contests and that eliminating it would burden their right to vote.

But Michigan officials, led by Schuette, told the Supreme Court last week that its “democratically enacted” ban did not violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but was simply aimed at “requiring voters to actually vote for each candidate they intend to support.”

“This change is not a burden on voting — it is the very act of voting,” read the State’s filing, which also noted that the vast majority of states do not allow Straight-Ticket voting. Prior to the ban, enacted in late 2015, Michigan had allowed Straight-Ticket voting for 125 years.

Responding to these contentions, the plaintiffs who challenged the ban countered on Wednesday that their lawsuit didn’t claim that African-American voters somehow have a constitutional right to vote straight-ticket.

“It is about the unconstitutional consequences for millions of voters of eliminating this option in the unique context of Michigan elections ― massive confusion and even longer lines at polling places deterring voters, especially African-American voters, from voting,” the plaintiffs told the Justices.

The Supreme Court did not offer its views for or against the ban on Straight-Ticket voting, but Friday’s order signals that Michigan couldn’t convince at least five Justices to agree to let the ban go into effect ahead of Election Day.

Now that the Court is evenly divided, with four Justices on each side of the ideological spectrum, it is expected that its next test on Voting Rights may also result in bad news for the petitioners. The Justices will soon act on a request from Ohio Democrats to restore a “Golden Week” of Early voting and Same-Day registration.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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