The results of the 2016 election are being replayed in federal court as the state of Michigan defends a Republican-backed law that would abolish straight-party voting, an easy ballot option that’s especially popular in urban areas that go Democratic. The law was suspended last year by a judge who said an end to straight-party ballots could cause long lines and place a disproportionate burden on black voters. Now, after months of analysis by experts, that same judge must decide whether the lawsuit should go to trial or be dismissed in favor of the state. Straight-party voting is the act of making a single mark on a ballot to pick candidates of one party, from president to county commissioner. It’s been in practice for more than 100 years in Michigan and is widely held in urban areas; Detroit’s rate was 80 percent in 2016.
But it’s in style elsewhere, too: Nearly 50 percent of all ballots in Michigan were straight-party last year. Many were cast in Republican-friendly counties with low black populations won by President Donald Trump, such as Ottawa, Allegan, Livingston and Kent.
A ban on straight-party voting is “neutral and nondiscriminatory, and applies to every voter in Michigan without regard to race,” Assistant Attorney General Denise Barton said while defending the law in an Oct. 16 court filing.
The law, she said, “affects only how voters fill out the ballot by requiring that they actually cast a vote for their candidate of choice, rather than blindly endorsing a political party’s choices.”