Judge blocks Michigan law that kills straight-party ballots out of concern for black voters

The worry is that the ban will force voters to take more time to cast a ballot, which may lead to confusion and inadvertent voting.
By Doug G. Ware  |  July 21, 2016 at 7:31 PM
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DETROIT, July 21 (UPI) -- A federal judge on Thursday blocked a new Michigan law that bars straight-ticket voting -- primarily over the concern that it unfairly impacts black voters in the state.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the law in January. Under the code, no voters would be allowed to walk into a voting booth and make only one punch to vote for the candidates of their preferred party.

U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin A. Drain, though, issued injunctions against state election officials Thursday to prevent the law's enforcement -- saying it places a disproportionate burden on African Americans' right to vote and limits their opportunities to cast ballots.

The judge based at least part of his ruling on a recent U.S. Census Bureau report that found a correlation between straight-party voting and Michigan's black population. The report indicated that most of the state's straight-party voters are black.

"The real question that the court must answer is whether the burdens ... are in part caused by or linked to social and historical conditions that have produced or currently produced discrimination against African-Americans," he added. "This question is unavoidably answered in the affirmative.

The office of Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, the defendant in the case, said it is evaluating the judge's decision.

"The department just received the judge's order regarding straight-ticket voting and is reviewing it," Woodhams told The Detroit News. "I would note that straight-ticket voting only comes into play in the November general election. The order does not affect the Aug. 2 primary ballot."

Democratic Michigan attorney Brewer opposes the state's ban, claiming that removing the straight-ticket option means voters will need more time to cast their ballots and cause longer waits and more crowding. Potential confusion about those ballots, he said, may then lead to a disproportionate number of black voters not having theirs counted.

Snyder said in January that Michigan is one of just 10 states that offer straight-ticket voting -- and that he favors the ban because it emphasizes people over partisan politics.

The governor did not respond to Thursday's ruling.

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