Supreme Court Spurns Michigan Republicans on Straight-Party Vote

Updated on
  • Thomas, Alito dissent in U.S. Supreme Court election case
  • State officials had sought to revive ban for November election

Rejecting calls from Michigan Republicans, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to let the state enforce a new voting law that would outlaw straight-party ballots and make voters choose individual candidates.

With Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissenting, the court said it wouldn’t block a ruling that requires the state to keep the straight-party voting it has used for 125 years. A federal trial judge said the new law would mean longer lines at predominantly black voting sites.

QuickTake Voting Rights

Michigan officials were trying to revive the law for the November election. They contended that the change didn’t impose any burden on voters and that 40 other states already ban straight-ticket balloting. The measure was signed into law in January by Republican Governor Rick Snyder.

“Having voters actually cast a vote for their chosen candidate -- rather than blindly voting for all candidates of a party -- is the very act of voting, so it cannot rationally be characterized as a burden on the right to vote,” Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Attorney General Bill Schuette argued in court papers.

The Supreme Court gave no explanation, rejecting the request in a two-sentence order.

U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain said the measure violated both the Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act. Drain pointed to evidence that as many as three-quarters of the state’s black voters use the straight-party ballot, compared with a 50 percent rate for all voters.

“The straight-party option helps Michigan voters, particularly African-American voters, cope with one of the longest ballots and longest waiting times to vote in the entire country on Election Day,” those challenging the measure argued. The group included both voters and an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

A three-judge federal appellate panel had refused to block Drain’s ruling. All four lower court judges are Democratic appointees.

The case is Johnson v. Michigan State A. Philip Randolph Institute, 16A225.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE