ACLU Wins Federal Lawsuit Challenging Michigan Primary Election Law

March 26, 2008

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan applauded a federal judge’s ruling today barring the Michigan Secretary of State from providing the party preference declarations of voters solely to the two major political parties of the State in accordance with the primary election law. The lawsuit was filed in January 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.

“We are thrilled that this court has rightfully ruled that the state cannot limit access to this information to the two major political parties while making it a crime for anyone else in the state to use or acquire this information,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “It was never our intention to stop or discount the primary election. It is now up to the legislature to fix this unconstitutional law.”

In a 21-page opinion, Judge Nancy G. Edmunds struck down the portion of the law which made it a misdemeanor for anyone other than the two major parties, including other political parties, journalists, academics or historians, to have access or use the lists.  She declared that this section of the law violated the equal protection rights of third parties.

“The State is not required to provide the party preference information to any party,” she wrote. “When it chooses to do so, however, it may not provide the information only to the major political parties.”

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, passed in August 2007, mandates that anyone other than the two parties who "uses" a "secret" record could be issued a 93-day, $1,000 misdemeanor.

“Everyone agrees that the party preference lists are valuable resources,” said Thomas F. Wieder, ACLU of Michigan Cooperating Attorney who argued the case. “And we are pleased that the judge found that the state had no compelling interest that would justify providing this valuable information solely to the two major political parties.”

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

To read the complaint, visit: http://aclumich.org/pdf/primarycomplaint.pdf

To read the opinion, visit: http://aclumich.org/pdf/primaryopinion.pdf