Michigan Judge Rejects Republican Request To Limit Absentee Voting in Detroit

WASHINGTON, D.C. On Monday, Nov. 7, a Michigan judge denied a Republican request to impose strict limits on how absentee ballots are administered, returned and counted in Detroit, Michigan and to halt the counting of thousands of absentee ballots that have already been cast. This decision stems from lawsuit filed by Michigan secretary of state candidate and election denier Kristina Karamo (R), the Election Integrity Fund and Force (a conservative nonprofit), two poll challengers, a poll watcher, a poll worker and a voter against the City of Detroit Board of Election Inspectors and the city clerk challenging the city’s absentee ballot procedures. In their complaint, which was dismissed today, the plaintiffs argued that absentee ballots should only be requested in person at an election clerk’s office, as opposed to online or by mail, and that an individual requesting and casting an absentee ballot must verify their identity in person since the current signature verification process utilized by the city involves “illegal” technology in violation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Additionally, they alleged that absentee ballots should not be returned via mail or drop box and instead should be submitted to an election clerk in person. They predicated these baseless assertions on unfounded evidence of “ballot mules” whom they allege stuffed thousands of ballots into drop boxes during the 2020 election. The plaintiffs contended that the “Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution requires that the identification process protects against dilution of a vote by allowing unqualified voters to cast ballots.” 

The plaintiffs ultimately asked the court to require “all Detroit voters to vote in person or obtain their ballots in person at the clerk’s office…[and] require all ballots [to] be counted at the precinct” and to compel Detroit to “halt the use of absentee ballots that are obtained without identification, halt the counting of ballots cast through drop boxes that are not effectively monitored, and distribute the ballots to the precincts to use equipment and procedures that are as near as possible as the in-person process and in compliance of law.”

After holding a nine-hour hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction on Nov. 3 and hearing final arguments on Nov. 4, the judge issued an order in which he flatly denied the plaintiffs’ outlandish requests and dismissed their unsubstantiated claims altogether, concluding that “[d]espite Plaintiffs’ arguments to ‘shed light in a dark place,’ they have failed dramatically.” The opinion noted that “[d]uring the 48 hours between November 2nd and November 4th, Plaintiffs’ relief requests changed three times,” yet “all twelve [of their] allegations [remained] unsubstantiated and/or misinterpret[ed] Michigan election law…and Plaintiffs presented no evidence in support of their allegations.” 

In the order rebuking the plaintiffs’ claims and requested relief, the judge found that they were “not likely to succeed on the merits” and failed to show that they would suffer “irreparable harm” without judicial relief. To the contrary, the order stated that if the court were to grant the plaintiffs’ requested relief, “eligible voters of the city of Detroit…would [be] egregiously harm[ed],” as the plaintiffs’ desired preliminary injunction would “serve to disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters in the city of Detroit” and inflict “incalculable,” “intolerable” and “unprecedented” harm on the public interest. Notably, the opinion underscores the fact that, as of Nov. 3, approximately 60,000 absentee ballots have already been returned to the Detroit clerk’s office. Finally, the judge concluded that under the laches doctrine — which posits that a delay in bringing claims until the last minute imposes unfair burdens on the affected party (in this case, the defendants and Detroit voters) — the ​​plaintiffs “did not have to wait two months in order to take legal action regarding the conduct of an August 2, 2022 election. The delay is unjustified.”

Ultimately, today’s decision is not only a major victory for Detroit voters, but also a wholesale repudiation of efforts by Republicans and election deniers alike to subvert free and fair elections by undermining and sowing doubt around lawful, secure election procedures. The judge aptly stated that “[w]hile it is easy to hurl accusations of violations of law and corruption, it is another matter to come forward and produce the evidence our Constitution and laws require…Plaintiffs have raised a false flag of election law violations and corruption concerning Detroit’s procedures for the November 8th election. This Court’s ruling takes down that flag.”

Read the opinion and order here. 

Learn more about the case here.