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The Nyle Magazine
Monday, October 08, 2012
Published October 8, 2012
“Michigan becomes the latest state
to have parts of its voting law ruled unconstitutional”
Michigan has become the latest state to have
parts of its voting law ruled unconstitutional.
According to the Detroit News’ Chad Livengood’s article,
“Citizenship question ordered off voter form,” a federal judge ruled
on Friday that Michigan could not require voters to answer a question
about their citizenship. The
citizenship question has been on the ballot since the February 2012 GOP
Presidential Primary. Governor
Snyder vetoed the bill in July. Although
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson removed the question from the absentee
ballots, she included the question on the non-absentee ballots.
According to Livengood, Johnson has argued that the citizenship
question enables the state to preserve American citizens’ voting rights
by identifying and then removing non-citizens’ names from the voter
rolls. The case made it to
federal court after voting rights groups challenged the legitimacy of the
citizenship question on the ballot.
issue for the court was if the secretary of state had created an undue
burden on one group of citizens by having them to answer the citizenship
question, while not having those sending in an absentee ballot to answer
the citizenship question. The
judge ruled that the act in its self was discrimination and therefore
to Livengood, the U.S. District Court Judge Paul Borman stated that the
enforcement of the law would not be the same throughout the state and this
will create “confusion” at the polls.
Livengood quoted the judge as saying, “It really is a burden on
the right to vote in terms of slowing things down, in terms of
confusion.” The judge also
stated that the citizenship question created a “lack of equal
protection.” According to
Livengood, the judge asked, “If it’s so important, then why isn’t it
on the absentee ballots?”
Unfortunately for Johnson, she could not give a reasonable answer
to the judge’s question. She
was faced with two facts she couldn’t get around.
The first fact is that the governor vetoed the bill and the second
is that Johnson created two classes of people by allowing the citizenship question on
the non-absentee ballots. In
July, Governor Rick Snyder vetoed bills H.B. 5061 and S.B. 803 that would
have allowed the citizenship question to appear on the ballot.
The bills were sponsored by state Rep. Brad Jacobsen and state Sen.
Darwin Booher. The bill
required that a person confirm his citizenship twice before he received a
ballot. Those getting an
absentee ballot had to provide a voter’s ID.
Also, if an individual did not answer the citizenship question on
the absentee application then he would be given a second absentee ballot,
before the polls close on Election Day, and allowed to answer the
question. And if the voter
failed to answer the citizenship question, then his ballot would not be
Snyder wrote a letter, dated July 3, 2012, to the state legislators.
In the letter, Governor Snyder stated that voter “confusion”
would occur. The governor
said, “Enrolled House Bill 5061 requires a clerk to issue an absent
voter ballot to a person who did not check the citizenship box on the
absentee application but not count the ballot unless he or she answers the
citizenship question before the polls close on election day. I am concerned that enrolled House Bill 5061 could create
voter confusion among absentee voters.”
The “confusion” for the citizen will most likely occur because
they are completing an absentee application, which the clerks can check
the legitimacy of, along with an absentee ballot.
So the voters will most likely wonder why it is they are given a
second ballot when they have already completed one.
Hence, the preservation of American citizens’ voting rights,
which the secretary of state says she is trying to preserve, will be
negated by the act she is using to preserve voting rights.
Despite the governor’s veto, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson
refused to remove the citizenship question from the non-absentee ballots.
As a result, the August primary caused confusion among voters and
some clerks refused to issue ballots that had the citizenship question.
to the Detroit Free Press’ Christina Hall’s article, “Macomb
County won’t ask voters about their citizenship;
Oakland County to use controversial forms,”
Carmella Sabaugh (Macomb County Clerk/Register of Deeds) cited the
governor’s veto as a reason why she did not put the ballots out with the
citizenship question. Sabaugh
told Hall that it was as simple as making sure that all voter’s had the
right to vote and the citizenship question would limit that because of the “confusion”
it would cause. Hall
noted that a resident, Glen Rehan of Shelby Tonwhship, Michigan, was
turned away because he wouldn’t answer the citizenship question.
Hall quoted Rehan as saying, “I was being denied to vote for my
right on these issues over my citizenship, which has never been
questioned. I shouldn’t
have to jump through one more hoop to cast my ballot.”
According to Livengood, it wasn’t until after the secretary of
state was sued that she sent out a memo stating that the citizenship
question should be removed from absentee ballots.
And to make matters worse, the state elections director, Chris
Thomas, told the court that the citizenship question was not removed until
after the attorney told them to remove it.
Hence, the secretary of state had already been told that the
question was unconstitutional. Yet, she proceeded as she did despite the governor’s veto
and the attorney’s recommendation.
On Friday, Ruth Johnson sent out a letter responding to the
court’s decision. In her
letter, Johnson implied that her actions were the result of what she
alleged is the federal
government’s inaction on cracking down on illegal immigrants who are
abusing the system. Johnson
said, “We’re disappointed because the federal government has refused
to help us clean up the Qualified Voter File and now a federal judge has
ordered us to not ask people if they’re U.S. citizens at the polls.
As to non-citizens, our staff has verified cases of non-citizens on
our voter rolls. We estimate
there are as many as 4,000 individuals on the rolls today.
We will continue to push the federal government-the only ones with
the information-to help us identify remaining non-citizens so they can be
removed. This was a problem
they helped create and they need to help Michigan and other states clean
it up. That is just common
sense.” What Johnson is
calling “common sense” has proven to be confusion.
The fact Secretary of State Johnson refuses to realize is that she
has created an unequal protection under the law by treating two different
sets of citizens, non-absentee voters and absentee voters, differently
based on the manner in which they vote. According to Livengood, Judge Borman will be issuing a written
injunction on Tuesday. Early
voting for the November 6, 2012, presidential election has begun.
However, the effects of the citizenship question being on the
ballot may not be known until after the election.