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Straight-Ticket Voting Struck Down in Michigan

6th Circuit rejects argument that eliminating the one-vote ability to choose a political party's entire candidate slate amounts to intentional racial discrimination. Ruling could have impact in New Mexico.

||| The River City NewsThe River City NewsIn a decision that could affect everything from Gary Johnson's Senate bid to the prospects of certain independent-bent elected officials changing their party affiliations, a 2-1 panel of the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals yesterday reinstated Michigan's 2015 legislative ban on "straight ticket voting"—the mechanism by which voters can choose an entire slate of a political party's candidates by filling out just one box.

The ruling blocks a decision last month by U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin Drain to strike down the law (after having issuing serial injunctions against it being enacted) because it "intentionally discriminated against African Americans," thus violating the Voting Rights Act and equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. "African-American voters use the straight-party option far more than whites," Drain had argued, and therefore "Michigan's Republican-dominated legislature enacted [the law] to win elections—especially down-the-ticket contests—through suppressing African-Americans' reliably Democratic votes."

The Sixth Circuit found "very serious problems with both the factual underpinnings and the legal analysis" of Drain's opinion, saying he "likely committed clear error" in detecting intentional discrimination. "The alleged evils of eliminating Michigan's straight-ticket voting system seem unlikely to outweigh the ability of a state to make public policy choice common among all 50 states," the majority wrote. "The irreparable harm to voters in taking what would be at most very small additional time to register their choices, an additional time largely within the control of the voter, is very small."

First out of the gate in applauding the decision was libertarian Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a strong critic of the straight-ticket option. "This is a huge win in Michigan for equality under the law, fairness in the political process, and independent and third-party candidates," Amash tweeted last night. "It is a huge blow to partisans in the Republican and Democratic political establishments."

The Michigan case bears some resemblance to New Mexico, where the Democratic legislature and then-Republican Gov. Gary Johnson banned the straight-ticket option way back in 2001 (though it wasn't removed from ballots until after 2010), but then Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver unilaterally reinstated the device late last month. The move, widely interpreted as a crude attempt to thwart Johnson's attempt to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Martin Heinrich in this heavily Democratic state, was immediately hit by a lawsuit from the Republican and Libertarian parties.

The New Mexico Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Sept. 12; meanwhile, several New Mexico counties are threatening to defy Toulouse Oliver's order to change the ballots.

As Richard Winger of Ballot Access News recently pointed out, 11 states have gotten rid of the straight-ticket option over the past half-century; the only others to have it now are "Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah."

The trend line of removing straight-ticket voting has dovetailed with the trend line of voters increasingly not registering with political parties:

||| Rasmussen ReportsRasmussen Reports

"Straight-ticket voting is designed primarily to make it prohibitively difficult for someone to win running outside of the major parties; it saves little time for partisan voters," Amash tweeted this morning. "To fix long lines, we need more polling places and a longer voting period."

Challenged by a skeptic of his sincerity to explain what he has done to reduce barriers to voting, Amash elaborated: "We don't vote on Michigan election laws in Congress. When I served in the state House, I voted to support no-reason absentee voting. I've been outspoken about the need to make voting easier. We must not do it by hurting candidates who run nonaffiliated."

Photo Credit: KVIA

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  • lap83||

    Racial discrimination is whatever's inconvenient to Democrats, gotcha

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    There are only two races. Democrat, and Evil

  • BYODB||

    Sounds to me like both sides of this argument are stupid. There's nothing inherently wrong with straight-party ticket voting since you're not being forced to do it. I don't like it, don't get me wrong, but outlawing it is also pretty stupid.


    You can't twist people's arms to vote 'smarter', you just can't. The racial argument, however, takes the cake for idiot arguments.

  • lap83||

    I agree that you can't twist someone's arm into voting smarter, but I don't think there is anything wrong with reminding voters that you are voting for people...not parties. I also think the whole dumbing down of voter processes that Dems love just makes it easier for them to commit unethical voting practices (like when volunteers "help" the mentally disabled to vote) or even fraud

  • Brett Bellmore||

    The Democratic establishment favors party line voting being available for two reasons:

    1) They believe a large part of their voter base is lazy, and will give up on voting if it's the least bit inconvenient.

    2) It reduces the labor involved in absentee ballot fraud.

    I think this is a question reasonable people can disagree about, but claiming eliminating it is racially discriminatory? That's just a joke.

  • EscherEnigma||

    […] the only others to have [straight-ticket voting] now are "Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah.


    Yep. Real bastions of the Democratic Establishment.

  • Mark22||

    1) They believe a large part of their voter base is lazy [and stupid]

    Everybody believes that because it's true.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Yeah, I wasn't actually disputing that belief.

  • Harvard||

    [ but I don't think there is anything wrong with reminding voters that you are voting for people.]

    Or....against parties.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    My thoughts, too.

    Do you think the guy who was going to vote a party ticket isn't going to just run down the sheet voting party line anyway?

    This is a non-issue

  • JFree||

    Then the voter is perfectly free to do that.

    This is an issue because it is mixing up actual votes (the only votes that CAN be counted are those cast for a particular office) with meta-votes - on the govt ballot - in ways that structurally favor private parties.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Hey, I'm all for removing state and federal government from party politics (including primaries), and striking all endorsements and party affiliations from ballots, leaving only the names of the qualified candidates (who never benefit from "major party status" and have to qualify with signatures every year).

    But the hyperbole over the evils of straight-ticket voting are absurd. Don't like it? Don't do it. But don't whine about how unfair it is that folks that *want* to do it have the option.

  • JFree||

    It isn't hyperbole. A straight-party option on a ballot is a META option. It doesn't matter one fucking whit whether voters want that option in the voting booth. No more so than whether they want a blowjob option in the voting booth.

    Elections are for individual OFFICES. Period. They are not there to ascertain generic wills/preferences. The moment you start mixing those two, you by definition undermine the former.

    If you have a preference for a particular office, then you vote for it. If you don't, then you don't. But structure the election counting itself so those who don't have a preference completely overwhelm the actual votes of those who do - and you have OBLITERATED elections. Which is the entire purpose of sticking that party-line crap at the top of the ballot.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Please reread my first paragraph. If you want to make the government blind to political parties, I'm all for that. I think it'd be brilliant.

    But what you fear has already come to pass. The straight-ticket options makes it easier, yes, but it doesn't add anything that having party affiliation listed didn't already do. You are, quite simply, too late.

    So yeah, this is all hyperbolic nonsense. Have the option, remove the option, doesn't matter too much.

  • Mark22||

    How about printing the name of the candidate in power in 18 point with a big check box next to him and requiring all other candidates to be correctly spelled, fully spelled out names in block print?

    Like it or not, order and presentation of choices has a major influence on outcomes in settings where we can measure it. That is, it makes a difference larger than most margins of victory in elections.

  • perlchpr||

    I thought the argument that blacks are too stupid to vote without a "That Was Easy!" button was ... special.

  • Sevo||

    "I thought the argument that blacks are too stupid to vote without a "That Was Easy!" button was ... special."

    I was wondering if the guy could make that argument and not turn red-in-the-face.
    Embarrassing!

  • JFree||

    There's nothing inherently wrong with straight-party ticket voting since you're not being forced to do it.

    Only if you define force as a gun in your face.

  • BYODB||

    I get why people are against it, but changing it isn't going to make people vote straight party tickets any less than they do currently.

  • JFree||

    I don't care how people vote in actual elections. That's up to them.

    I just care that the only votes that count are those that are actually CAST for that particular election. Every election - every single separate office - on a ballot is its own election. Combining them all on a single ballot - and having those elections all occur on a single day - is already a huge convenience for voters. Now we want to return to the days when we, literally, stuffed ballot boxes with true party-line ballots? That's how voting used to occur - you get the party ballot outside the precinct, walk inside and do the official registration stuff, and drop the party ballot instead of the official ballot in the box.

    Restoring that corruption was the reason 'party-line' options were made possible on official ballots after we got rid of the fraud-inducing party ballots themselves. We never fucking learn a god damn thing

  • Hank Phillips||

    Actually you can. Australians are forced at gunpoint to vote after a "reform" enacted so that gold-backed currency could be replaced by counterfeit paper. Then came the "ranked" voting, requiring a booklet to explain how to correctly be forced to vote. The results: Australia (Blackouts), Ireland (Female Forced Labor), New Zealand, Northern Ireland, and Scotland (Nazi Abortion laws), and Malta (Comstock law birth control bans). Bad record overall compared to the normal voting that requires politicians to choose between repealing bad laws or losing their government paychecks. Would you move to any of these countries?

  • Wearenotperfect||

    BYODB: You're right, you can't "twist" people's arms to vote smarter but if this will prevent getting another Trump in office or prevent ever getting a Hillary in office and force voters to do their due diligence then I say twist away.

  • Zeb||

    If I were in charge I'd take all mention of party off of general election ballots. Either learn who you are voting for, guess, or don't vote.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Now THAT'S an idea

  • perlchpr||

    Ooooooh. I like that.

  • VinniUSMC||

    Heck yeah.

  • MasterThief||

    Not a bad idea. In practice, I don't see it helping much. It would give incumbents even more of a leg up due to name recognition. Further, I see it ending with a lot of people voting for candidates simply because they like the name rather than any understanding of policy positions. Stupid people are going to be stupid regardless and I don't think they are going to be better informed if you take the team names off of the candidates or disallow a single button to vote in a partisan manner. I don't liking voting if I'm not informed about the candidates, but a majority of the electorate do not have that same holdup. There is probably little to be done to ensure informed voting and any attempts to do so will inevitably lead one side or another to cry foul.

  • Zeb||

    I'd give random stupidity a shot over partisan stupidity, I guess.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    I'd allow straight ticket voting whenever a ballot has all parties on the ballot running for every position on the ballot.

    Just because I like games theory, they should be listed in least currently represented order.

  • Hank Phillips||

    I vote the straight libertarian ticket because it makes me the 0.000052 judging from the clout yielded by LP voters in 1972. Them Comstock laws had stood complete till 1932, eroded some, then wham! Spoiler vote massacre! Anything less than straight ticket only dilutes my vote.

  • Mark22||

    Their order should be randomized on every ballot.

    No party affiliation should be listed.

  • wreckinball||

    Everything is racist. At least it was struck down.

    I guess the folks who push this crap think that blacks are very stupid. Can't get an idea. Are confused or unduly influenced by the "straight ticket" button.

    Its all preposterous but someone needs to ask the question of those bringingthese idiotic suits why we should allow people who ares so dumb to vote at all?

  • wreckinball||

    Meant can't get an ID

  • Longtobefree||

    The sooner we get away from all this emotion laden individual voting, and let our betters pick our rulers, the better.
    How many man-hours are lost in voting each year? Economic efficiency alone dictates appointed rulers.

  • Mark22||

    Lady Hillary-upon-Huma, Count Dracul-Sanders, Sir Booker-the-Dumb, Countess Poca-Warren, Emperor Clinton, Her Majesty Little-Princess-Bush, etc. All hereditary titles,

  • NoVaNick||

    "Michigan's Republican-dominated legislature enacted [the law] to win elections—especially down-the-ticket contests—through suppressing African-Americans' reliably Democratic votes."

    Or the DEMs could just admit that they think African-Americans are too dumb to think for themselves.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Again?

  • esteve7||

    Why that would be legal in the first place is beyond me

  • Just Say'n||

    Because voting rules are suppose to be handled by individual states rather than some amorphous centralized authority?

  • Zeb||

    Which leaves the question of why it would be legal in Michigan unanswered.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Ah, actually, Article 1, section 4:

    "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators."

    So, at least in regards to federal elections, Congress has the option of taking control.

  • Detroit Linguist||

    Although I don't have strong opinions on the subject, the argument was that, for long ballots, straight party voting saves a lot of time, and lines at polling places get very long. Poor working folks don't have lots of time to waste standing in lines, and, especially in Detroit poor folks tend to be black. Hence, forbidding straight party voting was argued to be a way of preventing black folks from voting. Or at least discouraging them. Not sure I buy it, but it certainly seems to be instituted and supported by the somewhat mean-spirited, Republican-dominated state legislature here.

  • NoVaNick||

    for long ballots, straight party voting saves a lot of time, and lines at polling places get very long.

    Seems to me that the answer is to either have fewer elected officials, or get rid of political parties.

  • JFree||

    straight party voting saves a lot of time, and lines at polling places get very long. Poor working folks don't have lots of time to waste standing in lines, and, especially in Detroit poor folks tend to be black.

    Well at least for the 2016 election, straight-party voting was a complete irrelevancy in Detroit and focusing on it is a deliberate diversion from the actual problem. The failure of 90 voting machines, ballot discrepancies in 60% of precincts, and an apparently complete statewide inability to audit a damn thing which is a problem when you turn into a state that is close enough for recounts. And straight-party voting adds complexity to any audit because it adds potentially conflicting info between the meta-vote re party and individual votes on the ballot in particular races.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    The basic problem with Detroit is that they're a total corrupt mess, but also have a standing threat to riot if anybody tries to do anything about it.

    So far politicians in the rest of the state haven't had the nerve to call their bluff.

  • Just Say'n||

    In what world is the question of straight ticket voting a federal matter? What is "libertarian" about centralizing voting rules?

  • Zeb||

    Well, the court seems to have said that it isn't a federal matter.

    There is nothing libertarian or non-libertarian about it that I can see.

  • nicmart||

    You could say that about much of what Reason has reported on over the decades. I've never figured out what is libertarian about more government freeway construction or HOV lanes, but such things have fascinated Reason. The libertarianish think tanks, anxious to be respectable, have long acted as policy advisors to the state.

  • Mickey Rat||

    The district judge's ruling is a perfect example of a judicial activist legislating from the bench, so it is proper for it to be overturned, no matter what you think about the straight ticket voting option.

  • Hank Phillips||

    An identifiable LIBertarian button on city and county elections would quickly end their bonded debt. Only after 1972 did those elections become "non-partisan" meaning Fabian socialist.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Yeesh, this arguments about the evils of getting rid of straight-ticket voting are as silly as the arguments about the evils of adopting it.

  • Eddy||

    So let me see if I can follow the bouncing ball.

    Straight-ticket voting in Michigan just suffered a setback in court.

    The state legislature banned straight-ticket voting in 2016 (?), but a federal district judge reinstated it, saying the ban on straight-ticket voting was unconstitutional.

    Now the court of appeals has granted a stay of the district court's decision.

    This means that Michigan can, at least for now, enforce its law, which means *no* straight-ticket voting.

    The Court of Appeals also suggested that the law might be constitutional, despite what the district court said.

    Have I got this right?

  • Eddy||

    "A stay by the appeals court of a decision by the district court declaring the Michigan ban on straight-ticket voting to be unconstitutional."

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    No more straight voting? Do I have to now bake a non-straight party cake, too? Enough with pushing this agenda, Reason.

  • Harvard||

    Bitch is dealing meth you dumbass.

  • Uncle Jay||

    There should be no voting.
    The masses are not enlightened enough to vote for the socialist slaver.
    After all, there is no voting in Cuba, and just what a wonderful socialist paradise that turned out to be.

  • Fats of Fury||

    How about keeping any party identification off the ballot?

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Straight ticket voting is really important. Do you have any idea how much more work it would be to individually vote all those offices on fraudulent absentee ballots? Why, it would multiply the labor costs of absentee ballot fraud 10 or 20 times over!

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Sorry, Gershwin, your "constituency" needs to sharpen up their ability to differentiate between candidates.
    Something you obviously haven't done as you're a hack.

  • nicmart||

    The headline isn't accurate.

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