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Secretary of State Johnson drops citizen checkbox from ballot

By Katie Burke, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 8, 2012

Michigan voters will have one less checkbox to fill when voting on Nov. 6. with the removal of the state’s controversial citizenship status question from the ballot.

Federal Judge Paul Borman issued a preliminary injunction Friday against Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s enforcement of a citizenship checkbox on voting ballots. The decision came after a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on Sept. 17, which deemed the checkbox unconstitutional.

According to an ACLU press release, Borman’s decision stated that the checkbox would prove to be an unnecessary obstacle to voters and “create chaos” and “irreparable injury to the voting process.”

Voters are already required to confirm U.S. citizenship when registering to vote in the state of Michigan. Dan Korobkin, an ACLU staff attorney, said the checkbox created major delays during the primary elections, and the injunction will help speed up the process on Election Day.

“When extra steps are added to the voting process, lines become longer and the voters get more and more frustrated,” Korobkin said. “We know there will be millions more people trying to cast a ballot during the general election.”

Korobkin added that the checkbox has been a source of aggravation among voters in Michigan.

“We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support and positive feedback from voters all over the state who were really disturbed the Secretary of State would impose this kind of voting requirement after it had already been considered and vetoed by the governor,” Korobkin said.

According to a transcript of the motion for an injunction, the checkbox could be considered an infringement on voting rights.

“Members of the public … have a strong interest in exercising the fundamental political right to vote (and) that interest is best served by favoring enfranchisement and ensuring that qualified voters’ exercise of their right to vote is successful,” the motion read.

According to a Sept. 8 Gongwer News Service poll, 73 percent of Michigan voters approve of the measure to ensure voters on the ballot application are citizens.

Gisgie Gendreau, a spokeswoman for Johnson, said that non-citizen voting is a substancial problem for voters in Michigan, noting that an estimated 4,000 non-citizen voters voted in the last election.

“Anytime someone who is not a qualified voter gets the ballot, they disenfranchise people who are qualified voters because they cancel out their vote,” Gendreau said.

She added that Johnson has been working to clean up the voter rolls and remove people who are ineligible to vote.

Political Science Prof. Vincent Hutchings said the injunction could be highly influential in determining the number of voters who show up for the election.

“I think this may turn out to be a consequential decision because it’s possible that the decision that was put in place would have had the effect of discouraging some people from voting,” Hutchings said.

Hutchings called the checkbox “a solution in search of a problem,” noting that legal American citizens not voting is more of an issue than illegal immigrants filling out the ballots, making the citizenship checkbox inefficient.

He added if implemented, the measure could have resulted in an exclusion of voters with any ties to immigration, legal or illegal.

“I think one likely consequence of these policies is to create something of a chilling effect for voters who have an immigrant background, or at least a recent immigrant background, in order to try and discourage them from participating,” Hutchings said.

Korobkin said in an ACLU press release that he hopes to collaborate with Johnson in the future to create a more efficient voting process for Michigan.

“We are encouraged by the decision and hope to work with the Secretary of State on initiatives that will truly ensure that voting is convenient and open to every eligible voter in our state,” Korobkin said in the release.

Correction appended: A previous version of this article misidentified the status of the 4,000 non citizen voters who voted in last year's election. It also misidentified ineligible voters who were removed from the ballot rolls.