The U.S. Justice Department sued the state Tuesday, seeking an order requiring that hundreds of military and overseas voters who did not receive absentee ballots on time be given more time for their votes to be counted. The lawsuit – predicted late last week by Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson – was filed in the Grand Rapids federal courthouse. Johnson had warned that 70 of more than 1,500 local clerks did not mail or email absentee ballots to military and overseas voters on time. More than 200 others did not give the state a status update on whether they had met the 45-day deadline to do so before the Aug. 7 primary election. As of Tuesday, the number of non-responders had dropped to 24. Federal attorneys also are seeking to make sure all absentee votes are counted for the Sept. 5 special primary election in the 11th Congressional District in suburban Detroit. “Americans have fought and died for the right to vote,” said Patrick Miles, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan. “We must ensure eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their vote and for it to count.”
U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker quickly issued an order Tuesday setting a hearing for Friday in Grand Rapids on the Justice Department’s motion for a preliminary injunction. He said all parties in suit share an interest in ensuring military and overseas voters can vote by absentee ballot. “With that in mind, the Court encourages all interested parties to spend at least as much time and effort working on solutions that will ensure this common goal, as in preparing litigation papers for the Court,” Jonker wrote.
Clerks that missed the deadline – mostly township clerks – handle elections in counties such as Bay, Genesee, Kent, Van Buren, Muskegon, Kalamazoo and Wayne. Larger cities that missed the deadline include Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Battle Creek. In 2009, Congress passed a law requiring that states send absentee ballots to military voters, their families and overseas citizens no later than 45 days before a federal election.