LANSING, Mich. — Michigan residents still will be allowed to use the state’s long-standing option of voting for an entire slate of one party’s candidates with a single mark in the November election, barring an unlikely intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Thursday rejected Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s request that the full court immediately review a panel’s recent 3-0 decision that kept intact a preliminary injunction blocking a new straight-party voting ban. A majority of 15 active judges did not favor an initial “en banc” hearing before ballots are printed this month.
U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain halted the GOP-backed law in July, saying an increase in long lines would have disproportionately burdened blacks in the November election.
Straight-ticket voting is popular in Michigan cities with large African-American populations. It has been on the books for 125 years and has been a common choice in some counties that are steadfastly loyal to Republicans, too.
Appellate Judge Karen Nelson Moore, calling the state’s appeal an attempted “end-run around” 6th Circuit procedures, said denying the motion “comports with our usual and established practice in election cases of allowing the panel to consider the merits of an appeal before involving the en banc court.”
But dissenting Judge Danny Boggs criticized the refusal to intervene now, saying a stay should have been issued to avoid “the radical step of affecting the current election” and to allow for an appeal to the Supreme Court.
He questioned the premise that minorities are more likely to vote straight-ticket and that prohibiting the option would lead to a “very substantial” increase in voting times.
A spokeswoman for Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette said the office was reviewing the ruling.
Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, and majority GOP lawmakers enacted the ban in January, saying the option is not allowed in 40 other states and that getting rid of it would lead to a better-informed electorate.
Democrats have accused Republicans of seeking partisan gain, particularly in down-ballot races, and have said the law could have suppressed voter turnout.
The lawsuit was filed by attorney Mark Brewer, former head of the state Democratic Party, on behalf of three people and a union-affiliated group.
The three-judge panel that denied the stay request will next consider the state’s appeal of the injunction.
House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, said only Michigan is being forced to keep a voting option that 40 other states have eliminated.
“We have the facts on our side, we have the law on our side, and, once we get a full and fair hearing, I am confident Michigan will finally be allowed to jettison this last vestige of party-machine politics,” he said.
House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, called the 6th Circuit decision a “victory” for voters who he said would have faced long lines and increased wait times at polling places “had House Republicans succeeded in their efforts to discourage voting.”