A coalition of unions, voters, county clerks and civil rights groups is suing Secretary of State Ruth Johnson in federal court. The lawsuit challenges Johnson’s instruction that voters who show up on Election Day should be asked whether they are U.S. citizens.
Some local clerks have refused to put the citizenship question on Election Day ballot applications. Governor Rick Snyder this year vetoed a bill to require the question. Ruth Johnson said it would remain as a reminder that only U.S. citizens can vote, even though no one can be denied a ballot for refusing to check the citizenship box.
Ingham County Clerk Mike Bryanton says the result has been confusion and, in some cases in the August primary, people who have a right to vote being scared away from the polls.
“We need clarification,” he says. “Either the check box is legal, or it’s not. We believe it’s not legal. It’s not appropriate.”
Bryanton says it’s enough to ask people to affirm their citizenship when they first register.
The lawsuit says the requirement violates equal protection rights and the federal voting law.
“We essentially believe that the secretary of state is acting outside the realm of her authority, and we believe she is not above the law,” says Jocelyn Benson, who directs the Michigan Center for Election Law. The group is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “It’s not going to prevent non-citizens from voting, but it is something that will create and has created some confusion in our elections process.
Johnson’s office would not comment specifically on the lawsuit. Local clerks hope for a ruling quickly so they can prepare for the November election.