ACLU and Advancement Project Challenge Unlawful Disenfranchisement of Michigan Resident
DETROIT – Today, Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union and Pepper Hamilton LLP filed a motion on behalf of Lisa A. Blehm – a Michigan resident who was improperly disenfranchised in the November election – that would allow her to join a previously filed voting rights lawsuit challenging the state's unlawful voter purge programs. The motion was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Christopher M. Thomas and Standish City Clerk Rebecca Lakin.
In September 2008, Blehm's attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of the United States Student Association Foundation, the ACLU, the ACLU of Michigan and the Michigan State Conference of NAACP Branches challenging two statewide voter purge programs that unlawfully remove thousands of Michigan voters per year from the rolls. Blehm became a victim of one of those programs, which immediately cancels the voter registrations of Michigan voters who obtain driver's licenses in other states, without issuing the appropriate confirmation of registration notices and following the other voter removal procedures required by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).
After registering to vote in 2006 using her home address in Standish, Michigan, Blehm temporarily relocated to Georgia in 2007 to join her husband, a Marine who had been temporarily deployed there. While in Georgia, Blehm obtained a driver's license, but specifically declined to register to vote in the state because she fully intended to maintain her permanent residency and voting status in Standish. Around June 2008, after her husband's assignment in Georgia was complete, Blehm and her husband returned to their home and permanent residence in Michigan.
Then on November 4, 2008, Blehm went to her assigned polling place at Standish City Hall to vote, only to be refused by a poll worker, who told her that she was not registered to vote and would not be able to vote in the election. In addition, despite the explicit requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) and the Michigan Election Law, the poll worker did not offer Blehm the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot.
"Lisa's story is a prime example of how Michigan's unlawful purging programs have devastating real-world consequences," said Bradley Heard, senior attorney with Advancement Project. "The state and city election officials' actions in this case are blatant violations of the NVRA and HAVA, and those officials should be held accountable for those actions by the courts."
Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Thomas admitted in the lawsuit that approximately 72,000 voters a year are purged in the same manner as Blehm. And in October 2008, U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Murphy III ruled that this voter removal program violated the NVRA. Nevertheless, the state refused to restore Blehm and the other affected voters to the rolls in advance of the presidential election.
"Although election officials broke the law when they denied Lisa Blehm the right to vote, we are hopeful that the courts will put an end to misguided attempts at disenfranchising lawful registered voters so this doesn't happen in the future," said Meredith Bell-Platts, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "The fundamental right of every eligible voter to participate in the electoral process is sacred and must be protected from the whims of partisan politicians. It's tragic that election officials must be reminded that adhering to the Constitution and following federal law are not optional."
Attorneys in today's filing are Heard of Advancement Project; Bell-Platts of the ACLU Voting Rights Project; Michael Steinberg and Kary Moss of the ACLU of Michigan; and Matthew J. Lund, Mary K. Deon and Deborah Kovsky-Apap of Pepper Hamilton LLP.
Legal documents in this case, including today's motion, are available at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/gen/36838res20080917.html
More information on Advancement Project is available at: www.advancementproject.org