Despite Claims From Fox's O'Reilly, Michigan's Ballot Application Burdens The Right To Vote

Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

Bill O'Reilly and Fox News legal analysts Kimberly Guilfoyle and Lis Wiehl dismissed and mischaracterized a lawsuit alleging that a citizenship question on certain Michigan ballot applications illegally burdens the right to vote. But the "citizenship checkbox" may keep citizens from voting, as the state's Republican Governor anticipated when he vetoed an earlier attempt to implement the practice.

The ACLU of Michigan has filed a lawsuit accusing Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson (R) of once again violating state and federal law by including a checkbox to re-determine a voter's citizenship on absentee and election-day ballot applications. Although supporters defend the practice as a means to prevent noncitizens from voting, election experts have pointed out redundant citizenship verification is a solution to an almost non-existent problem, contrary to the claims of Johnson and Fox's Guilfoyle.

O'Reilly characterized the ACLU lawsuit seeking to eliminate the citizenship checkbox as "madness and stupidity," and threatened that if a "crazy judge[]" granted the injunction, he would "put the judge's face on the screen and then send [Fox's Jesse] Watters out to see him."  Fox's legal analysts not only agreed with O'Reilly's evaluation of the facts and law, but also his unsupported allegation regarding the motive behind the lawsuit:

What the ACLU wants is they don't want people committing perjury when they register. They do want people voting, who are not American citizens, to advance. They believe that most of those people would vote for the Democratic candidate in Michigan. That's exactly what's going on here.

No one acknowledged the actual arguments behind the lawsuit, namely that including a checkbox for citizenship affirmation on these ballot applications violates state and federal law and suppressed voters in Michigan's most recent primary election. It was this concern that led Governor Rick Snyder (R) to veto the proposed citizenship checkbox law in July. In his veto message, Snyder, a conservative Republican, stated the citizenship question could impermissibly "create voter confusion."

Voting by noncitizens is not a problem nationally or in Michigan. Indeed, according to the authoritative and exhaustive News21 study of thousands of alleged instances of voter fraud in the U.S., voter fraud such as noncitizen voting is "virtually non-existent." With respect to Michigan, an analysis by Wayne State University Law Professor Jocelyn Benson of the Michigan Center for Election Law demonstrates that:

[Secretary of State] Johnson has irresponsibly declared that 4,000 noncitizens vote in Michigan's elections, falsely claiming that the federal government is forcing her employees to register ineligible voters.

Her data is incomplete and unverified. The 4,000 number is no more than a general estimate of how many of Michigan's 7.5 million registered voters are not citizens.

In reality, she claims to have discovered 54 noncitizens who may have voted in Michigan's elections in the past decade, and as many as 900 others who are registered but have not voted. Yet the secretary of state is able to provide details on only two noncitizens who have recently voted. That's a far cry from 4,000.

State efforts, such as Michigan's, duplicate federal law that already prohibits and punishes ineligible voting and place excessive burdens on eligible voters. A recent Advancement Project report indicates that the Latino vote in particular is susceptible to the low turnout caused by redundant citizenship screens. According to the Michigan Election Coalition, this sort of unconstitutional burden was precisely what occurred during the 2012 Michigan primary election when poll workers across the state gave contradictory and erroneous instructions to eligible voters about the voluntary nature of the checkbox. It was this inconsistent treatment of voters across the state that led the ACLU to challenge the checkbox as a violation of the federal equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, not the due process clause as Fox's Wiehl incorrectly stated.

Furthermore, Johnson may not even have the power to place the citizenship question on the ballot. The state legislature originally tried to pass the election change in a bill, and Michigan law does not appear to allow the Secretary to unilaterally adopt this failed legislation. Even if it did, there does not appear any justification for the Secretary to then ignore the standard administrative notice and comment procedure behind the introduction of new state rules. Finally, the Secretary appears to have passed an election practice change statewide, despite the fact that the federal Voting Rights Act -- in order to prevent illegal racial or national origin discrimination -- requires certain townships in Michigan to pre-clear any such changes with the U.S. Department of Justice before they are put into effect.

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