LANSING, MI – A coalition of groups filed a federal lawsuit Monday to stop Secretary of State Ruth Johnson from asking voters if they are U.S. citizens when they fill out ballot applications in the November election.
Others filing the lawsuit were the Service Employees International Union, Ingham County Clerk and Democrat Michael Bryanton, Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, and registered voters from East Lansing, Shelby Township and Buena Vista Township.
While people already must confirm their citizenship when they register to vote, Johnson ordered local clerks to include a citizenship check-off box on ballot applications in the February and August elections.
She says it is an extra protection to keep non-citizens from voting, especially since the federal government before 2008 required the secretary of state to ask customers if they wanted to register to vote – regardless of their citizenship status. Johnson says an unknown number of non-citizens are registered and she wants to keep them from committing a crime.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder this summer vetoed a bill that included a requirement for voters to check a citizenship box – citing potential voter confusion – but Johnson says she still has the authority to include the box under her power to prescribe ballot forms.
The suit cites confusion from the August primary – when enforcement of the citizenship question varied and Johnson sent a clarifying directive to clerks saying voters did not have to answer the question to vote. The suit warns against interfering with voters’ rights “on a greatly magnified and much more deleterious scale” in November.
Claims made in the suit include violations of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause; that Johnson did not go through the required rule-making process and afford the public a chance to comment on the checkbox; and that the state did not get a required preclearance from the Justice Department before imposing election changes on two townships – Buena Vista in Saginaw County and Clyde in Allegan County.
The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds in Detroit.
Read commentary from those involved in the lawsuit on MLive.com