LANSING (AP) – Michigan officials are taking another stab at getting the courts to save the Jan. 15 presidential primary.
The attorney general’s office yesterday filed an appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, asking it to overturn an appeals court decision that the primary election law is unconstitutional. State election officials want the court to rule by noon tomorrow so they can get absentee ballots out by Dec. 1.
“Absent a resolution of defendants’ appeal by noon … (Elections Director Chris) Thomas and the various local clerks will be unable to complete preparations for the holding of the presidential primaries, even if this court later concludes that the injunction was wrongly entered,” the application for appeal said.
In their 2-1 ruling, Appeals Court Judges Patrick Meter and Donald Owens objected that a law setting up the primary would let the state political parties keep track of voters’ names and whether they took Democratic or GOP primary ballots but withhold public access to that information.
The state is asking the high court to send the case back to Ingham County Circuit Court and have the complaint dismissed.
Failing that, it wants the Supreme Court to approve the section of the law setting up the Jan. 15 primary and leave for later who should get access to the voting records. The attorney general’s office asks that the court direct Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land not to disclose any of the records showing which ballots voters took until the court rules on that section.
Plaintiff Mark Grebner, an East Lansing political consultant who brought the case along with several others, says the information in the records is worth $5 million to $10 million and argues that others should have access to it since it’s information obtained through an election paid for with public dollars.
But state officials argue in their appeal that providing the primary information to the political parties would protect against crossover voting, keep the voter information from becoming public knowledge and increase voter participation by allowing a primary rather than more restrictive caucuses or party conventions.
State lawmakers could resolve the issue next week if they approved a new law setting up the Jan. 15 election. Democratic leaders in the state House considered meeting today, but decided against it. State GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis wants the Legislature to act, even though the Michigan Republican Party also backs the appeal.
“I am confident that the state will prevail on its appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court because of the overwhelming public good a presidential primary creates,” Anuzis said Monday in a statement. “But Democrats in the Michigan House could solve this issue once and for all by immediately passing legislation that Senate Republicans sent them two weeks ago.”
That bill also would restore all Democratic presidential candidates to the primary ballot, something many of the Democrats pushing for an early primary support.
Barack Obama, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson pulled their names from Michigan’s ballot because the state violated Democratic National Committee rules by moving up the primary. The bill doesn’t require the candidates to participate, but their names must appear on the ballot.
If the primary stands, Michigan would be one of the earliest states on the presidential calendar. If no primary is held, Republicans will make their choices at a Jan. 25-26 party convention. Democrats are tentatively set to hold a Feb. 9 caucus, but could move that date to January.
The lawsuit and lack of legislative action have delayed scheduling of the nation’s first primary.
New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner has said he won’t set the date of his state’s primary until it’s clear what’s going to happen in Michigan because he fears Michigan Democrats could try to hold party caucuses on the same day as the New Hampshire primary if the Michigan primary is dropped.