On May 19, 2020, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced that she would begin mailing absentee ballot applications for the upcoming August and November elections to all registered voters in the State in order to promote the usage of absentee voting for those elections in light of the present COVID-19 pandemic and the risks that poses to in-person voting for many voters.
In late May, three individual plaintiffs initiated separate lawsuits against Secretary Benson to stop this, and the Michigan Court of Claims consolidated the three cases. Plaintiffs argue that under Michigan statute and prior cases addressing the powers of local clerks, Secretary Benson does not have authority to affirmatively send out absentee ballot applications.
On June 16, 2020, the Brennan Center for Justice filed an Amicus Brief in support of the Secretary. We argue that Secretary Benson has broad authority under Michigan law to mail out absentee ballot applications. This power was only further strengthened by a 2018 constitutional amendment—enacted overwhelmingly by Michigan’s voters—that guarantees all Michiganders the right to vote absentee. On June 18, 2020, the court denied plaintiffs’ motions for a preliminary injunction.
On August 25, 2020, 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, 2020, one plaintiff appealed this decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals. On September 4, 2020, the Brennan Center for Justice filed an Amicus Brief in support of the Secretary in the Court of Appeals. On September 16, 2020, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the Court of Claims, holding that Secretary Benson had the authority to send the absent voter ballot applications to all Michigan voters. On December 28, 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court denied plaintiffs’ application for leave to appeal, leaving in place the ruling of the Court of Claims.
Expanded access to vote by mail is a crucial tool for States to administer free, fair, accessible, secure, and safe elections during this pandemic. The effort to undermine access to mail ballots risks disenfranchising voters who rely on mail voting to participate in elections, particularly during the pandemic.
- Complaint (Davis)
- Complaint (Cooper-Keel)
- Complaint (Black)
- Secretary of State Brief in Opposition to Motion for Declaratory Judgment
- Brennan Center’s Amicus Brief
- Opinion and Order Denying Plaintiffs’ Preliminary Injunction Motions
- Opinion and Order Granting Summary Disposition
- Appellant’s Brief on Appeal
- Brennan Center’s Amicus Brief in the Court of Appeals
- Court of Appeals Order Affirming the Court of Claims Opinion and Order
- Supreme Court Order Denying Application for Leave to Appeal