Citizenship Checkbox at the Polls

May 29, 2013

In 2012 the Michigan legislature passed a bill that would have required voters to check a box affirming their United States citizenship before they can receive a ballot. The measure made little sense because you must already be a U.S. citizen in order to register to vote. Voting rights advocates opposed the law, arguing that it was unnecessary, redundant, and could be used to intimidate some voters on the basis of race or language proficiency. Wisely, Governor Snyder vetoed the legislation.

Then, in spite of the veto, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson unilaterally announced that she would require voters to check a citizenship box anyway before receiving a ballot. Alarmed that the Secretary of State was imposing new and potentially dangerous voting requirements that were not authorized by any law, the ACLU of Michigan joined a nonpartisan coalition of voting rights advocates in filing a federal lawsuit.

In October 2012 Judge Paul Borman ruled that the checkbox was likely unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction ordering the Secretary of State to remove it from the voter application forms for the November 2012 election. After the election, the legislature enacted (and the governor signed) a new law that will require voters to confirm that they are citizens before receiving a ballot, but will not require voters to check a special box for U.S. citizenship. Based on the new law, the ACLU and its coalition partners voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit in May 2013.

(Bryanton v. Johnson; ACLU Attorney Dan Korobkin; Andrew Nickelhoff and Mary Ellen Gurewitz of Sachs Waldman; Maryann Parker of the SEIU.)

To view the full 2013-2014 Legal Docket, click here.

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