WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, Sept. 15, a federal judge ruled that two Michigan voting restrictions — a voter transportation ban and an absentee ballot organizing and assistance ban — do not violate federal law or the U.S. Constitution. This decision stems from a lawsuit filed in November 2019 by Priorities USA, Rise, Inc. and a local chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute that challenged these voting restrictions for violating the First and 14th Amendments of the Constitution and Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by creating unreasonable burdens on the right to vote. The challenged voter transportation ban makes it a misdemeanor to “hire a motor vehicle” to transport voters to the polls unless they are “physically unable to walk,” while the absentee ballot assistance and organizing ban criminalizes efforts to help voters return their absentee ballot applications. Notably, Michigan is the only state in the country with a strict law that criminalizes third-party transportation of voters. In today’s decision, the judge granted the defendant’s (Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D)) and the Republican intervenors’ motions for judgment on the pleadings, ruling that both the transportation and absentee ballot organizing and assistance bans do not violate the First Amendment, 14th Amendment or VRA. Today’s decision means that the bans on transporting voters and absentee ballot organizing and assistance will remain in place for the upcoming midterm elections.
Even though the plaintiffs asserted that there is “undisputed evidence establish[ing] that widespread voter fraud or coercion has never existed in Michigan,” the judge found that the state’s “fraud prevention” interest advanced by the challenged laws is greater than any burdens placed on the plaintiffs. Regarding the absentee ballot organizing and assistance ban, the judge cited concerns of voter fraud and noted that the absentee ballot process is vulnerable to fraud and that Michigan has an interest in preserving election integrity. The judge also found that the plaintiffs lack standing to sue under the VRA. Further, the judge stated that the absentee ballot organizing and assistance ban does not conflict with VRA, holding that the “Plaintiffs read the VRA too broadly. Section 208 allows certain voters who need help voting to select ‘a person of the voter’s choice’—not ‘any person.’” The judge concluded that, overall, “the State’s interests in preserving the integrity of its elections” are more compelling than ensuring voters are not criminally prosecuted for assisting individuals attempting to exercise their right to vote.