ACLU Takes Up Voting Rights in Michigan

The Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Michigan announced that they jointly filed a federal lawsuit late yesterday challenging two Michigan programs that have the ability to disfranchise hundreds of thousands of local voters ahead of the 2008 presidential election.


“With Michigan set to be one of the most important battleground states in this election and turnout predicted to be the highest in state history, we are going to do everything we can to make sure that every vote counts and that nobody is illegally purged from the voter rolls,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan.


The Advancement Project says it has repeatedly told Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land’s office that the programs are unlawful, but since it hasn’t gotten what it considers a satisfactory response, it filed the lawsuit.


Under one voter removal program, the Michigan Department of State will immediately cancel the voter registrations of Michigan voters who get driver’s licenses in other states instead of following the required voter removal procedures mandated by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. According to the Department’s own estimations, over 280,000 voters per year are removed from the rolls in this manner, the ACLU said in an announcement.


Another voter-removal plan the groups are seeking to have rescinded is one in which local clerks are required to nullify the registrations of newly registered voters whenever their original voter identification cards are returned by the post office as undeliverable. Detroit elections officials report that nearly 30,000 voters per year in that city alone are removed from the rolls as a result of this state election law, which violates the NVRA and other federal and state laws, according to the ACLU. The NVRA permits voters to remain on the voter rolls for at least two federal elections after voter registration cards are returned, the rights organization says.


“Students and young adults generally are much more transient than older adults, are much more likely to have driver’s licenses from different states than their colleges, and are much more likely to live in multi-unit housing, such as dormitories and apartments,”explained Jonathan Doster, a Michigan field organizer for U.S. Student Association. “Anyone who has lived in these types of housing knows that the mail can sometimes be very unreliable and unpredictable. It’s just not fair to deny someone the right to vote just because they are an out-of-state student or they don’t get a piece of mail,” said Doster.


The lawsuit was filed against Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Christopher M. Thomas, and Ypsilanti Clerk Frances McMullen. The plaintiffs in the case are the U.S. Student Association and the ACLU of Michigan. The parties have asked the federal court to schedule a hearing as soon as possible and to enter an immediate temporary injunction barring further purges under these programs.


Deborah Creighton

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