Appeals court won’t halt Michigan straight-party vote ruling

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan residents still may be allowed to use the state’s longstanding straight-party voting option in the November election after a federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected the state’s request to keep intact a new ban on the practice.

A panel of judges from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled 3-0 against Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s motion for a stay. U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain in Detroit blocked the Republican-backed law last month, saying it would place a “disproportionate burden” on blacks in the November election, which would be the first in which the ban would go into effect.

Attorney General Bill Schuette said his office would file an emergency appeal for an “en banc” review by the full appellate court.

“Michigan is no different than the 40 other states that have eliminated straight-ticket voting,” he said in a statement.

Straight-ticket voting is popular in Michigan cities with large black populations. It has been on the books for more than 100 years and has been a common choice in some counties that are steadfastly loyal to Republicans, too.

Gov. Rick Snyder and majority GOP lawmakers enacted the ban in January, saying the option is not allowed in 40 other states and getting rid of it would lead to a better-informed electorate.

But Judge Karen Nelson Moore, writing for the federal appeals court panel, said the state “offered only vague and largely unsupported justifications of fostering voter knowledge and engagement.”

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Mark Brewer, former head of the state Democratic Party, on behalf of three people and a union-affiliated group. He said voters stuck in long lines would be “angry” and “confused” without straight-party voting.

The law enacted in January included $5 million for additional voting booths and tabulators after clerks raised concerns that removing the option would cause longer lines. It also kept the issue from going to a public referendum; voters in 1964 and 2001 preserved the straight-ticket option.

The straight-party voting has been abolished by nine other states in the last 20 years, including Wisconsin and Illinois.

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