People For the American Way Foundation

UPDATE: Michigan Primary raises citizenship question

UPDATE: With the so-called Secure and Fair Elections package facing auncertain future, confusion is surely looming for Michigan’s August 7 federal primary election.The vetoed citizenship check box remains, but without legislative force behind it, as Secretary of State Ruth Johnson conceded, checking it remains optional. Left is the question of whether voters know their option or if elections officials will enforce the rule. Elsewhere military access to absentee ballots has been called into question by DOJ.

Are you a citizen? was the question posed by the Michigan Primary even before voters were asked to decide between President Obama or Santorum and Romney.

The question of citizenship is not new:

Under the Michigan Election Law, voters have to swear under oath they are an eligible voter — which includes U.S. citizenship — when they apply to vote and it is verified by the Secretary of State’s or local clerks’ offices when the application is processed.

What is new is the added step of asking it at the polls.

The Michigan Legislature is considering a bill, sponsored by Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart, which requires voters to affirmatively state their citizenship before receiving a ballot at the polls. The bill passed the Senate and was referred to the House Elections and Redistricting Committee. Critics say Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson appears to be implementing an election bill prior to it being signed into law.

[Side note: According to ALEC Exposed, Senator Booher paid ALEC membership dues with taxpayer funds in 2005, 2007 and 2009 while a state representative.]

Katy Flanagan, Project Vote’s Director of Election Administration:

Secretary Johnson appears to be implementing an election bill that hasn’t even passed the House–much less been signed into law. The legislative process would be meaningless if politicians could just enforce the bills they like. Our goal is to ensure no eligible voter is turned away from the polls. To protect everyone’s right to vote, our election officials should be enforcing existing laws, not proposed legislation.

Melanie McElroy, Executive Director of Common Cause Michigan, continues:

Requiring voters to affirm their citizenship, again, at the polls on Election Day and on absentee voter ballot applications is a solution in search of a problem. This new requirement will only confuse long-time voters who affirmed their citizenship when they registered to vote for the first time.

Simply put by Kyle Caldwell, CEO and President of the Michigan Nonprofit Association:

Our elections must be free from fraud and we can do it without creating redundant steps.

Serious concerns have been expressed over Secretary Johnson’s claim that existing authority authorizes this change. And over her claims of its benign application that appeared yesterday to be anything but benign.

Groups have received reports from voters in various precincts around the state who are surprised and angry about this unnecessary and burdensome requirement. Additionally, there are also reports of inconsistent application of this new requirement by election officials.

We’re left with the suspicion that this is yet another tactic that falls right in line with The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.


112th Congress, ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council, citizenship, Common Cause, Darwin Booher, Department of Justice, DOJ, Katy Flanagan, Melanie McElroy, Michigan Nonprofit Association, Policy Corner, Project Vote, public policy, Ruth Johnson, voter suppression, voting rights