Lansing — Secretary of State Ruth Johnson caught political flak for initially demanding Michigan voters affirm their citizenship in the August primary.
In the middle of Aug. 7 primary, her office changed course from requiring voters to affirm their citizenship to get a ballot to instructing local election clerks to give voters who refused to answer the question a ballot and inform them that it’s illegal for non-citizens to vote in U.S. elections.
A group called the Michigan Election Coalition sent Johnson a letter Tuesday demanding that she remove the question form the November ballot. But Johnson doesn’t plan to change course for Nov. 7 general election, spokesman Fred Woodhams said.
The Michigan Election Coalition alleged Johnson violated the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act by not publishing seeking public comment on the citizenship question prior to adding it to ballot applications for the February presidential primary and August general primary elections.
“The Secretary of State does not have an unfettered unchecked authority to make voters answer any questions she deems necessary before receiving a ballot,” said Jocelyn Benson, Johnson’s 2010 Democratic opponent and executive director of the Michigan Center for Election Law.
The Michigan Election Coalition includes groups with deep ties to the Democratic Party — the Michigan chapters of the ACLU, NAACP and American Federation of Teachers and the UAW, SEIU and Progress Michigan. The non-partisan League of Women Voters of Michigan also has joined the coalition.
Johnson, a Republican, has claimed she had the legal authority to place the question on the ballot application under a law that gives her the power prescribe ballot box procedures and forms.
Michigan’s voter rolls contain an unknown number of legal immigrants who have been mistakenly registered to vote while being issued a driver’s license. The automatic registration practice ended in 2008, but Johnson’s office contends the citizenship question is necessary to weed out non-citizens from the voter rolls.
“Secretary Johnson added the citizenship check box to ensure that only U.S. citizens participate in Michigan elections,” Woodhams said in an email. “It also helps non-citizens who have inadvertently registered to vote by letting them know that it is not proper for them to vote.”
Benson, who signed the Michigan Election Coalition letter, said the group is considering suing Johnson if she doesn’t change course.
“If she doesn’t do it, then we will be forced to consider all of our options, including potential litigation,” Benson said.