The top state election official in Michigan asked the Supreme Court on Friday to put back into effect, for this year’s election, a law banning voters from casting one vote for all of a party’s candidates on the ballot — that is, voting a straight ticket. The request noted that 40 other states forbid that choice.
Michigan had allowed straight-ticket voting since 1891, but the legislature passed a law last year to forbid it. As a result, each voter must mark the ballot for the candidate of choice for each office. Nearly half of Michigan voters had cast straight-ticket ballots in past elections, and this approach is said to be a favorite of black voters.
The request (16A225) for a postponement of a federal trial judge’s order restoring straight-ticket voting was filed with Justice Elena Kagan, who handles emerging legal matters from the geographic area of the Sixth Circuit, which includes Michigan. Kagan has the authority to act on her own, or refer the issue to the full Court. (Kagan is also considering a separate plea to restore five days of early voting opportunity in Ohio.)
The Michigan secretary of state asked Kagan or the full Court to act by next Thursday, because of the state’s schedule for finalizing ballots for the November 8 election. Justice Kagan asked for a response from challengers to the ban by next Wednesday morning.
After a fedral trial judge blocked the law against casting a single vote for all of a party’s candidates, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit refused to delay that order. Under an unusual procedure in the Sixth Circuit Court, the Michigan official then asked the en banc Circuit Court — all 15 active judges — to take on the case. That request was rejected by a 9-to-6 vote; it would have required a majority of the active judges to grant such review.
A panel of the Sixth Circuit Court had ruled that the challengers to the straight-ticket ban were likely to win when the case went to trial, on the basis that the ban probably violates the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment, because of its impact on black voters.
The trial judge had ruled that the ban would lead to voter confusion, since there would be no way to make the choice to vote for all of a party’s candidates at once, and that it would likely lead to longer lines at polling stations because of the difficulty of marking a choice for every office on he ballot.
In urging reinstatement by the Supreme Court of the straight-ticket ban, the Michigan application argues that it does not interfere at all with the right to vote, but simply affects only the manner of voting. The voter still is given the choice of how to vote, office by office, the application argued.
The application also argued that it is too close to the November 8 election to be forcing changes in the ways Michigan elections are conducted.
It is conceivable that the Court, now with only eight members, could split 4-to-4 on the request. Such an even division would mean a denial of the request to enforce the ban.