Democracy and Elections

Appeals Court Orders Michigan To Restore 5,500 Voters To Rolls

Ruling Is Latest Victory In ACLU And Advancement Project Legal Challenge.
A federal appeals court late Wednesday cleared the way for 5,500 illegally purged voters to be returned to the rolls in time for Election Day. The U.S. Appeals Court for the Sixth Circuit rejected Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land's request not to enforce an earlier court ruling that declared the state's voter removal programs illegal. The appeals court decision is the latest victory in a lawsuit filed in September by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Michigan, Advancement Project and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP.

Earlier this month, Judge Stephen J. Murphy of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan ruled that Michigan's voter removal program violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). In question was a Michigan state law requiring local clerks to nullify the registrations of newly-registered voters whenever their voter identification cards are returned by the post office as undeliverable. The NVRA permits voters to remain on the voter rolls for at least two federal elections after voter registration cards are returned.

The voter removal program would have had a detrimental impact in minority, low-income and student communities across Michigan. These communities tend to be more transient and to live in multi-family housing. The plaintiffs in the case are the United States Student Association (USSA) and the ACLU of Michigan.

The following can be attributed to participants in the lawsuit:

Meredith Bell-Platts, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project:

"This is a major victory for democracy and the people of Michigan. This decision helps restore confidence in an electoral process that has been badly damaged by misguided attempts at disenfranchising lawful registered voters. In just five days, 5,000 voters who would have been shut out of the democratic process will now have their votes counted and their voices heard."

Bradley Heard, senior attorney with Advancement Project:

"We are gratified that another court has cleared the way for Michigan's unlawfully purged voters to vote on Election Day. Federal law is not optional and the secretary of state must obey it. Every voter must be heard this election and we are confident that everyone who is eligible to vote on Tuesday will now be allowed to exercise this fundamental right."

Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director:

"We regret that the secretary of state has fought this, wasting valuable time and resources on an appeal when she could have worked to re-enfranchise the 5,000 illegally purged voters. We count on the secretary of state to act in the best interests of every person eligible to vote in this state. We applaud the Sixth Circuit today for filling that role and ensuring that every person who is eligible to vote in Michigan is allowed to, free of intimidation and suppression."

Attorneys in this case are Heard of Advancement Project; Bell-Platts and Neil Bradley of the ACLU Voting Rights Project; Moss and Michael Steinberg of the ACLU of Michigan; and Matthew Lund, Mary K. Deon and Deborah Kovsky of Pepper Hamilton LLP.

Legal documents in this case are available here.

More information on the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available
The ACLU and Advancement Project are public interest litigators who defend the constitutional rights of Americans.