Election Coalition Urges Secretary of State to Ban the Citizenship Checkbox

September 4, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

DETROIT – In a letter today, the non-partisan Michigan Election Coalition urged the Secretary of State to immediately halt the use of the “citizenship checkbox” on voter applications, arguing that the box has no basis in law, was implemented unilaterally and may be used to harass or intimidate voters.

"The checkbox is duplicative, unnecessary, and ineffective.  And many citizens who voted in the Primary Election can attest: it is also confusing and poorly implemented," said Jocelyn Benson, MEC chair. "Voting is a fundamental right guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution - and it's one that history proves we must be vigilant to protect.   We must all work together to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.  These cynical voter suppression tactics do neither.  We ask the Secretary of State to work with us on initiatives that will ensure that voting is convenient and open to every eligible voter in our state."

During the presidential primary in February, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson placed a controversial new checkbox on all ballot application forms requiring Michigan voters to affirm their U.S. citizenship — despite the fact that legislation cementing the checkbox into law had not passed and that voters must already be citizens in order to register. In July, Governor Rick Snyder vetoed the Secretary of State-backed bill that would have required the citizenship checkbox for fear that it could lead to confusion. In August, Secretary of State Johnson ignored this veto and implemented the checkbox during the primary election causing confusion amongst voters and poll workers. Secretary Johnson was forced to send a clarifying directive to local election workers stating that the box was unenforceable on Election Day.

According to the Coalition’s letter, “Michigan law already requires that applicants to vote confirm their U.S. citizenship, under penalty of perjury, when they register to vote.  The citizen checkbox arbitrarily imposes a duplicative and unnecessary citizenship affirmation requirement on registered voters.  It does nothing to enhance the integrity of the voting process.  On the contrary, it impedes a free and fair election.”

A report released by MEC following the August primary shows that 38 percent of calls to voter election hotlines were related to the citizen checkbox in Michigan. According to reports, enforcement of the checkbox requirement varied from place to place, from voter to voter, and even from hour to hour.  Some registered voters were required to check the box in order to receive a ballot, while other voters encountered a challenge process. Some were made to listen to a statement and then given a ballot; and others were not asked about their citizenship at all. In its letter, the Coalition argues that the varied experiences of voters demonstrate that the checkbox was not implemented in a constitutionally acceptable manner, which requires voting rules and regulations to apply uniformly across the state. 

“The checkbox is simply a solution in search of a problem. Secretary of State Johnson’s crusade against non-existent voter fraud is shamefully transparent,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “There is much more evidence that citizens are disenfranchised by these measures than there is evidence of individual voter fraud. In order for this to be a true democracy, every eligible American must be able to vote and every voice must be heard regardless of its political affiliation. ”

In addition to the ACLU of Michigan, the letter was signed by Michigan Center for Election Law, SEIU, A. Philip Randolph Institute, AFT Michigan, Common Cause, Michigan Fair Elections Legal Network, League of Women Voters of Michigan, Michigan Election Reform Alliance, NAACP Michigan State Conference, Progress Michigan, Project Vote and International Union, UAW.

To read the letter, go to: http://www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/CheckboxLetter.pdf

To read the full MEC Primary Election Report, go to http://www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/PrimaryElectionsReport.pdf

Statistics image