Justice done, election law undone

In the case of MIs-Elect-ion Impossible, the list will not get out.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds voided Michigan's presidential primary election law, which would have handed individual voting records — that's your name, address and party preference if you participated in the Jan. 15 primary — to the Republican and Democratic parties only. Other political parties, which could not legally receive the records, challenged the law.

"The Court holds that [the law] deprives plaintiffs of equal protection of the laws in violation of the 14th Amendment. The Statute is therefore constitutionally invalid," Edmunds wrote in granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs who challenged the state election law. "The state is not required to provide the party preference information to any party. When it chooses to do so, however, it may not provide the information only to the major political parties."

State Elections Director Chris Thomas said the state did not plan an appeal and would comply with her ruling. The state, Thomas said, will not release the records to anyone even if they use Michigan's Freedom of Information Act to request the list.

"It will not be made public," Thomas said.

At issue in the lawsuit, filed four days before the primary, was the Michigan presidential primary election law that the state Legislature passed in August. It had what News Hits hacks considered the unconscionable provision to only release the voter lists to the two primary political parties.

Apparently our bosses agreed, because Metro Times joined the plaintiffs in an ACLU lawsuit filed in federal court against Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land in January.

In part, we argued a First Amendment case for the fight to access and to report on information of public interest, but Edmunds did not rule on those claims, finding enough justification for her decision in the 14th Amendment.

A key principle at stake for us was this: Taxpayers funded the collection of the voting lists making them public record, not the exclusive property of anyone. The legislature designated only the Republican and Democratic state parties as recipients of the lists. Not the public, who paid for the collection of the information. Not other political parties, like the Green, Libertarian and Reform parties who joined us in the suit. Not political consulting firms, like Winning Strategies, also a plaintiff.

The law got worse. If we — meaning the public — had gotten the lists, we could have been assessed a $1,000 fine and up to 93 days in jail for each voter record we "used," according to the law.

"If somebody had dropped this on their doorstep, it would have been illegal to use it," said Thomas Wieder, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

The Republic and Democratic parties, meanwhile, would have been handed what MT columnist Jack Lessenberry called a "gold mine of precious information," supplied courtesy of taxpayer dollars. The list would have contained voters' names and addresses, sorted by party.

Think of what the political telemarketers and junk mail authors could have done with that!

Of course, the law stated they could only use the lists for "supporting political activities," but in this day and age, that's fundraising, folks.

Edmunds' ruling won't have any effect on the results of the election, the attorneys said, but could have some implications were Michigan to have a mail-based "do over" primary.

In that situation, for example, where voters would be eligible for re-voting in a Democratic primary only if they voted in the first primary, how would the election directors know if the records weren't released?

They couldn't, unless Edmunds' ruling was revisited.

And what about the possibility of Edmunds' ruling completely invalidating the election results? It's a question worth asking as the law has a "nonseverability" clause — if one section of it is found invalid by a court, the rest of it shall be "invalid, inoperable and without effect."

"Nothing I do or say will undo the primary that already took place," Edmunds said in court.

Wieder agreed.

"The two parties either will or will not honor the results of the primary," he said. "They're not bound by any decision about this election and this list."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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