A federal judge late Friday ordered Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to remove a U.S. citizenship question from ballot applications for the Nov. 6 election, citing inconsistent enforcement and potential “confusion” at the polls. “It really is a burden on the right to vote in terms of slowing things down, in terms of confusion,” U.S. District Court Paul Borman said in ruling from the bench after a six-hour hearing. Johnson, a Republican, said she was disappointed by the judge’s ruling. She questioned why she was hauled into court Friday and defended the citizenship question as a tool to root out noncitizens on the voter rolls. “This is an education tool that we found that works,” Johnson told reporters.
Johnson said the ruling could increase election costs for municipalities that have to reprint voter application forms. Clerks also may be able to black out the question on existing forms. Borman said he would issue a written injunction order by Tuesday. A coalition of voting rights advocates who questioned Johnson’s authority to impose the question after Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed authorizing legislation was elated by the judge’s decision. “There is no question that, without the court’s intervention, the chaos that persisted during the August primary election will be replayed on a greater scale during the November general election,” said Dan Korobkin, staff attorney for ACLU of Michigan, one of the plaintiffs.
During the hearing, testimony revealed Johnson had ordered the removal of the citizenship question from absentee voter applications for the Nov. 6 election one week after being sued over the issue. The judge said imposing the citizenship question on voters at the polls and not requiring absentee voters to answer creates an unconstitutional lack of equal protection. If it’s so important, then why isn’t it on the absentee ballots?” Borman asked.