For over 125 years, Michigan residents had the option of killing many birds with one stone, at least at the ballot box. This option is called straight-ticket voting, and it allows voters to fill in one bubble on a ballot for Democrats or Republicans, instead of filling in individual bubbles for every race. Proponents of straight-ticket voting claim that it makes the voting process faster, which helps eliminate long lines at the polls. In January 2016, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a bill that eliminated Michigan’s straight-ticket voting option.
The bill passed along mostly partisan lines, with Republicans claiming that it would encourage nonpartisan voting and force voters to be informed on individual candidates, instead of voting by party. Democrats, on the other hand, saw it as a bare attack on voters in urban areas like Detroit and Flint, where long waits at polling places were already common. Straight-ticket voting has been a boon to Democrats in past elections, with more people voting for Democrats on straight tickets than Republicans. The Michigan Democratic Party was not alone in its concern with the law.
Three individual plaintiffs and the Michigan State A. Philip Randolph Institute sought a preliminary injunction to block the law’s application, citing the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act. The Eastern District of Michigan granted the injunction and the Sixth Circuit upheld it, citing evidence that the elimination of straight-ticket voting disproportionately affected minority voters. The plaintiffs presented evidence that minority voters in Michigan were more likely to vote straight-ticket, more likely to vote Democrat, and more likely to be affected by long lines. The possibility of long lines having a disenfranchising effect on minority voters was particularly important for the Voting Rights Act claim, because it tied historical conditions to current effects of the law.