Lawsuits are seeking to change a wide range of election practices before November. We have a breakdown of the top four.
MICHIGAN — According to data from Lake Effect, Michiganders are both likely to vote absentee and worry that their absentee vote won’t be counted.
A lot of factors have come together to radically change the way Michigan conducts elections. Both massive voter access reforms passed in 2018 and the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 have meant that more Michiganders than ever before will vote absentee, largely by mail, in November.
With any changes to a system as important as voting, problems are bound to arise. And the main way those problems are addressed is through lawsuits.
Four lawsuits in particular have the potential to change everything before polls close on Nov. 3. Some have been punted to the legislature, some are in the state court system and some are large multi-state lawsuits against a federal agency. All of them are fundamentally important to voting in Michigan.
Powell v. Benson: Voter access for the blind
The ‘Gander reported ahead of the May local elections about a lawsuit filed by blind Michigander Michael Powell. To vote absentee, blind Michiganders have to tell someone how they intend to vote so that person can fill the ballot out for them.
As a result of the lawsuit, blind Michiganders were able to file their ballots through the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting system, which allows blank absentee ballots to be sent electronically to a voter, who marks it and submits it back to their clerk by mail. Blind Michiganders were able to use screen readers to mark their ballots through that system.
In mid-May, the state entered a consent agreement where it would develop a Remote Access Vote-by-Mail (RAVBM) system that would be operational for the November election in mid-September. However, Powell filed a complaint that the state missed it’s deadline to prepare for the August primary.
Daunt v. Benson: Too many registered voters
Conservative activist Tony Daunt filed a lawsuit in June alleging the state has kept shoddy voter rolls. As a result, Daunt says, the state has too high of a voter registration rate.
As Michigan Department of State spokesperson Jake Rollow explained to Bridge, since 2018 Michigan has automatically registered voters when they update their driver’s licenses unless they opt out or are ineligible. And, Rollow said, there are other problems with Daunt’s claim.
“It compares old Census data and registration numbers that make no attempt to distinguish between active and inactive registration, and asserts the false notion that voter registration rates should be low,” Rollow said, adding the state’s goal is that every eligible voter is registratiered “as higher registration is a sign of a more robust and representative democracy.”
Rollow called this suit a ploy for attention.
Durant has sued Benson before, in his ultimately failed bid to try and prevent the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.
League of Women Voters v. Benson: When absentee ballots must be received
In order to be counted, a ballot must be received by a local clerk by the time polls close, regardless of when the ballot was postmarked. The ACLU and League of Women Voters sured to have that changed, and Benson actually agreed.
But in July, a court ruled that only the legislature could make that change. Following that decision, sweeping changes at the Postal Service designed to undermine mail-in voting contributed to 10,000 Michigan absentee ballots not being counted in the August primary.
Benson has called on the legislature to address this concern and state Reps. Kara Hope (D-Holt) and Leslie Love (D-Detroit) introduced legislation that would do just that and have been working for months to get it passed, but the Republican-controlled legislature has been largely unresponsive to those efforts.
Michigan et all v. DeJoy: Getting ballots delivered
Those postal delays have been the subject of another lawsuit as well. Michigan joined several other states in suing the United States Postal Service and its Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
Michigan is alleging that the policies implemented by DeJoy have risked the integrity of the November election by making it harder for voters who submit their absentee ballots by mail to get their votes received by the time polls close on election night.
“Recent actions taken by Mr. DeJoy are unlawful and indicate an attempt to disrupt and delay U.S. Postal Service operations,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “For more than 200 years, the postal service has been a fundamental part of the fabric of this country. People and businesses rely on it to deliver critical medications, correspondence and goods. We filed this lawsuit on behalf of the people of this state to ensure they can continue to depend on a system that is an integral part of our daily lives, our economic well-being and our democratic process.”
Though DeJoy almost immediately pledged to hold off the slowdown-inducing cost-cutting policies until after the election, he also continued his policy of decommissioning functioning mail sorting machines and refused to reactivate those already decommissioned.
As part of the lawsuit, the Postal Service has been ordered to turn over documents about the cost-cutting measures DeJoy has implemented.