ACLU of Michigan Files Federal Lawsuit Challenging Primary Election Law

January 11, 2008

DETROIT The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced today a federal lawsuit challenging the new primary law that requires the Michigan Secretary of State to provide party preference declarations solely to the two major political parties of the State. The law, passed in August of 2007, makes it a misdemeanor for others, including political parties, journalists, academics or historians, to have access or use the lists. The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Green Party of Michigan, Libertarian Party of Michigan, the Reform Party of Michigan, the Metro Times and Winning Strategies, a political consulting firm.

“It is not our intention to stop the primary,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “Instead, it is our contention that the state cannot lawfully limit access to this information to the two major political parties.  The consequence of this law is to exclude individuals and parties from meaningful participation in the political process.”

Michigan law does not require voters to register by party and therefore voter party preference information is valuable to political parties, individual candidates, citizen groups supporting or opposing ballot proposals, political consultants, news media, researchers, other specialized groups and members of the public. The law mandates that anyone other than the two parties who "uses" a "secret" record could be issued a 93-day, $1,000 misdemeanor.

“The main problem with this statue is that it gives valuable political resources to the two major parties to use for almost any purpose while making it a crime for anyone else in the state to use or acquire this information,” said Thomas F. Wieder, ACLU of Michigan Cooperating Attorney.

The lawsuit charges that the new law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by providing the information to the two major political parties of the State while denying access to that information to everyone else. The lawsuit claims that “there is no compelling state interest that would justify providing this valuable party preference information solely to the two major political parties.”

In addition, the plaintiffs claim that the law violates the First Amendment and the Michigan Constitution by preventing the Metro Times and other news media from reporting and commenting upon matters of public interest that relate to voter party preference information.

The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court in Detroit to declare the law unconstitutional and permanently prohibit the Secretary of State from carrying out the provisions of the law.

The plaintiffs are represented by Wieder, Moss, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg and ACLU of Michigan Cooperating Attorney Stephen F. Wasinger.