Supreme Court Allows Michigan to Eliminate Straight-Ticket Voting

On Friday, September 7, US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan denied an application to preserve straight-ticket voting on Michigan state ballots. The brief order indicated that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have granted the application. The denial of the application will mean that on the November 6 ballot, voters in Michigan will have to vote individually for numerous partisan offices, in accordance with a law passed by the Republican-majority legislature in 2015. Until today, that law had been stalled in litigation.

Plaintiffs Michigan State A. Philip Rand Institute and others challenged the law shortly after is was passed, alleging that it would disproportionately affect African Americans. After discovery concluded in September 2017, US District Judge Gershwin Drain conducted a bench trial resulting in a lengthy opinion on August 1, 2018, enjoining enactment of the law on the grounds that it violated two federal constitutional provisions and Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act. The defendants—among them the Michigan Secretary of State—appealed the injunction, and a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed, lifting the injunction on September 5. Over one dissent, the Sixth Circuit panel found that the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their case, one of the requirements for a preliminary injunction. By denying the application, the Supreme Court effectively eliminated the straight-ticket voting option in that state.

Proponents of straight-ticket voting argue that removing the option will lead to voter confusion and longer voting lines, effectively discouraging some voters in areas where the lines are already extremely long. Judge Danny Boggs, who authored the majority opinion, dismissed the claim that the elimination of straight-ticket voting would add three minutes to each voter’s time as speculative and lacking basis.

Additional Reading

Order denying application to vacate stay, Sept. 7, 2018

Supreme Court keeps ban on Michigan straight-ticket voting, The Detroit News, Sept. 7, 2018

Michigan State A. Philip Rand Institute v. Johnson, No. 18-1910 (6th Cir. Sept. 5, 2018) via Justia

Federal judge blocks Michigan ban on ‘straight-ticket’ voting, Reuters, Aug. 1, 2018