Flint Voters Sue their City Clerk for Violating Right to Vote by Absentee Ballot

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
July 17, 2020 9:00 am

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FLINT – Flint residents sued the Flint City Clerk for violating their absentee voting rights, as guaranteed in the state Constitution, because its local office is closed to the public, which denies registered voters their right to vote by absentee ballot in person.

Within hours of the lawsuit being filed Thursday evening, Flint City Clerk Inez Brown indicated that her office would open on Monday. The lawsuit will continue in order to ensure Clerk Brown complies with all state laws.

Michigan voters overwhelmingly passed Proposal 3 in 2018, which affords the right to absentee voting to all registered voters statewide. Voters in Michigan can vote absentee during the 40 days before an election, either at home by mail or in person at the voter’s local clerk’s office. Today marks 18 days before the Aug. 4 Primary Election in Michigan, yet all registered voters in Flint have been unable to vote in person at their local clerk’s office because its office is closed.

Eliminating or reducing in-person voting options, including absentee voting in person, would inadvertently disenfranchise many Black voters, voters with disabilities, and Native American voters. People with disabilities must be able to vote in person with ADA-accessible voting machines, which must be available at their clerk’s office, polling place, or other specified location. Native American voters who live in more remote areas, including rural reservations, are less likely to have mail delivered to their homes or nearby polling places. And Black voters, including in the majority-Black city of Flint, have been historically disenfranchised as well through voter suppression tactics – they, along with all voters, must be given full access to the ballot.

Several plaintiffs issued the following statements:

  • “I vote to ensure my voice is heard, and I prefer to vote early and in person by absentee ballot so I know my clerk immediately has my ballot after I fill it out and sign it,” said Quincy Murphy, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, registered voter, and Flint resident. “How can candidates for Flint city offices, the Genesee County prosecutor, and members of Congress be selected in the primary when voters are denied access to the ballot? As Flint residents, we’ve endured enough through the years. Being pushed out of the voting process on top of that is wrong.”
  • “No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote, and that includes me,” said Nayyirah Shariff, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, and registered voter living in Flint. “I am considered to be high risk and medically vulnerable if I contract COVID-19 because of my health history and prefer to vote from home. So I mailed my absentee ballot application in May, but still have not received my absentee ballot for the August 4 Primary. This is unacceptable.”
  • “My vote matters just as much as the vote of somebody who lives outside of Flint. But today my neighbors and I are being denied our full right to vote, and in our hometown, because our city clerk is not mailing our absentee ballots in a timely manner and has closed its doors to the public,” said Brian Barkey, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who is also a registered voter living in Flint.

The lawsuit also claims that the Flint City Clerk is violating the Michigan law that requires a clerk to immediately mail an absentee ballot to a voter when the clerk receives a voter’s absentee ballot application. Voters throughout Flint who requested their absentee ballots weeks ago have yet to receive them.

“Voters in Flint want, need, and deserve full access to their ballots, period,” said ACLU of Michigan cooperating attorney Muna Jondy, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case. “While we are suing in Flint, this is not the only community in Michigan where this problem has occurred. Michigan election officials have a responsibility and an obligation to respect the rights of the voters they serve.”

Only July 7, the ACLU of Michigan wrote a letter to the Flint City Clerk and Flint Mayor detailing voters’ concerns; however, there has been no sufficient change in actions. Flint voters and the ACLU of Michigan filed this lawsuit as a last resort to restore and protect the right to vote in Michigan as the Primary Election nears.

“While we are encouraged by the city clerk’s change of heart, the community has been promised similar actions in the past that have not come to fruition,” said ACLU of Michigan cooperating attorney Alec Gibbs, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case. “We are continuing with our lawsuit to ensure compliance and accountability. Less than 40 days out from an election, it is inexcusable for any clerk in this state to deny voters their absentee ballots in a timely manner, and to fail to provide every single option to all voters so they can cast their ballot in accordance with state law.”

Barkey et al. v Brown et al. was filed in Genesee County Circuit Court on Thursday.

“The ongoing pandemic makes it especially important that city officials honor the broad absentee voting rights that are enshrined in the Michigan constitution,” said Shankar Duraiswamy, Covington & Burling LLP attorney.

In addition to Gibbs and Jondy, the Flint residents are represented by ACLU of Michigan legal director Dan Korobkin, along with Shankar Duraiswamy, Sarah Suwanda, and Corey Walker of Covington & Burling LLP.

This release and corresponding documents are here.

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