Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson vows that a check-off box asking voters to confirm their U.S. citizenship will once again appear on November ballot applications, raising concerns among voting rights advocates who argue it’s unnecessary, intimidating and could suppress voting. Johnson defends her decision to keep the box she ordered in the February and August primary elections as a legal and appropriate extra step to ensure only citizens participate in elections — even after fellow Republican Gov. Rick Snyder recently vetoed a bill that included a requirement for voters to check a similar citizenship box. “The secretary of state has the authority under state law to prescribe forms, including the ballot application form,” said department spokesman Fred Woodhams, who added this past week she’s pressing forward after a coalition led by the nonpartisan Michigan Election Coalition said it sent her a letter urging her to “immediately halt” using the citizenship check-off.
“Johnson added the citizenship checkbox to ensure that only U.S. citizens participate in Michigan elections,” Woodhams said. “It also helps noncitizens who have inadvertently registered to vote by letting them know that it is not proper for them to vote.” Coalition members say state law already requires that people must confirm their citizenship when they register to vote and such box “impedes a free and fair election.”
“We should not subject 7.3 million voters to an interrogation — it’s a completely idiotic way to solve the problem,” said Jan BenDor, statewide coordinator for the affiliated Michigan Election Reform Alliance. “People are just stunned that any party would go after the building block of our democracy.” BenDor said Johnson is misinterpreting the state law, which doesn’t specifically deal with content of the applications. “This does not give her the authority to add more stuff,” BenDor said. “We could have two dozen questions on there. How offensive do we need to get?”