For Immediate Release:
September 16, 2020
Julian Brookes, firstname.lastname@example.org, 646–673–6224
A Michigan appeals court has ruled that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson had the authority to send absentee ballot applications to all of the state’s registered voters. The court upheld an August decision in Davis v. Benson by the Michigan Court of Claims. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, with pro bono counsel Miller Canfield, had filed two amicus briefs in support of the secretary’s authority.
“This is a big win for Michigan voters and for American democracy,” said Myrna Pérez, Director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Limiting the ability of the Secretary of State to send ballot applications to all Michigan registered voters would have harmed the state’s efforts to promote free, fair, accessible, secure, and safe elections.”
Michigan Secretary of State Benson announced in May that, due to the Covid-19 risks posed by in-person voting, the state would begin mailing absentee ballot applications for the August primary and November general election to all registered voters in the state, which it proceeded to do.
“As chief elections officer of the state, the Secretary of State has broad authority under Michigan law to mail out absentee ballot applications,” said Wendy Richards, Miller Canfield Pro Bono Counsel. ”And the 2018 constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly by Michigan voters provides all registered voters the right to vote by absentee ballot without giving a reason. Today’s ruling is a common-sense victory for democracy and voter access.”
In late May, three individual plaintiffs initiated separate lawsuits – subsequently consolidated –against Secretary Benson to stop the sending of absentee ballot applications to all registered voters. They argued that, under Michigan statute and prior cases addressing the powers of local clerks, Secretary Benson lacked the authority to affirmatively send out absentee ballot applications.
In June, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law and Miller Canfield filed an amicus brief arguing that Secretary Benson has broad authority under Michigan law to mail out absentee ballot applications and that this authority was further strengthened by a 2018 constitutional amendment that guaranteed all Michiganders the right to vote absentee.
On August 25, the Court of Claims ruled that Secretary Benson had authority to send the absent voter ballot applications and dismissed plaintiffs’ consolidated cases. On August 28, one plaintiff, Davis, appealed the decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Brennan Center for Justice filed an amicus brief on September 4 in support of the Secretary Benson in the Court of Appeals.
The Brennan Center for Justice is an independent, nonpartisan law and policy organization that works to reform, revitalize, and when necessary, defend our country’s systems of democracy and justice. We work to build an America that is democratic, just, and free — for all. More at brennancenter.org
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