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Federal Court Rules In Michigan Voting Rights Case

October 19, 2004

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Contact Information:
Scott Schell, 212 998–6318
Wendy Weiser, 212 998–6130

Federal Court Rules in Michigan Voting Rights Case
Provisional Ballots Preserved as a Fail-Safe for Voters Going to Wrong Precinct and for First Time Voters Facing Special ID Requirements

Court Rejects Justice Dept. Motion to Oppose Use of Provisional Ballots

New York, NY – A federal court in Michigan today ruled that provisional ballots cast by voters in the wrong precinct but in the right county, city, or township on November 2 must be counted. Combined with a prior concession by Michigans Secretary of State to make provisional ballots available to first time voters facing new ID requirements, todays ruling helps ensure that the promise of a 2002 federal law to prevent the disenfranchisement of eligible, registered voters will be fulfilled.

In a related ruling, the federal court denied the motion of the U.S. Justice Department to intervene in the case as a friend of the court. The Justice Department brief rejected by Judge David M. Lawson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan argued a position directly contrary to the courts ruling today. The Justice Department argued that provisional ballots should not be made available to eligible voters going to the wrong precinct and that voters are not entitled to enforce their rights under the Help America Vote Act. Judge Lawsons ruling stated that [g]iven the need for a prompt decision, the governments filing was not timely. He also wrote that the governments brief adds nothing to the arguments already advanced by the defendants.

The courts decision concerns the first application of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to a national election. HAVA was enacted in response to the 2000 presidential election debacle. Congresss intent in enacting HAVA was, in part, to ensure that no eligible voters are turned away from the polls without an opportunity to vote and that technical requirements and administrative errors do not unnecessarily disenfranchise American voters.

Regrettably, people have focused on the partisan competition in recent election-related lawsuits, said Wendy R. Weiser, associate counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and lead counsel for several plaintiffs in the case. But that obscures whats really at stake for American democracy: Are we moving closer to a time when all eligible voters can participate meaningfully in our elections? Sadly, the Justice Department, which has traditionally been a champion of voting rights, tried to get involved at the last minute on the wrong side of this issue.

The Brennan Center for Justice, along with the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, the Advancement Project, and Amos Williams, Esq., represent a number of groups on behalf of Michigans voters. Those groups are: Michigan State Conference of the NAACP, Project Vote, ACORN, and the Ezekiel Project.

For additional information about Brennan Center efforts to promote policies that protect rights to equal electoral access and political participation, please visit the Center’s Voting and Representation Project.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, founded in 1995, unites thinkers and advocates in pursuit of a vision of inclusive and effective democracy. Its mission is to develop and implement an innovative, nonpartisan agenda of scholarship, public education, and legal action that promotes equality and human dignity, while safeguarding fundamental freedoms.
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