Michigan adopted no-excuse absentee voting after the 2018 mid-term elections where voters chose to expand voter access under Proposal 3. Plaintiffs represent elderly and disabled members of their organization. Citing challenges from Covid-19 that could infringe upon residents’ right to vote, Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief against defendant Secretary of State Benson regarding three requirements under the state’s election law.
First, they wanted to extend the deadline to receive absentee ballots from 8 PM on Election Day to 14 days after Election Day. Plaintiffs argued that people could not rely on the US Postal Service to timely deliver their ballots. Second, they wanted the state to provide pre-paid postage for the ballots because 1) the postage requirement was either too costly if buying stamps online or too hazardous if voters had to “venture out and subject themselves to health risks in search of a stamp.” Third, they wanted to remove the “voter assistance ban” that limited the people who could handle absentee ballots on behalf of a voter. Election workers were required to help voters with absentee ballots up to 5 PM on the Friday before an election, but family members could continue to assist. Plaintiffs wanted to expand the scope of organizations like theirs to “mobilize voters in assisting them to make the transition” from in-person voting to absentee voting.
On September 18, Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens granted preliminary injunctions for two of the requests, but only for the 2020 General Election. First, she extended the deadline of mail-in ballots for 14 days after the election, provided the ballots were post-marked the day before the election. Second, she lifted the voter assistance ban from 5 PM Friday before the election until Election Day because election officials were not required to help collect ballots during that time period. Judge Stephens did not enjoin Defendants from enforcing the postage requirement. Later in September, the court decided these injunctions should be permanent.
While defendants did not appeal the court’s ruling, the Michigan Legislature filed an appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals seeking a reversal of the lower court’s ruling. The court determined that the voter assistance ban was not unconstitutional. Even if election workers were not required to collect absentee ballots after the statutory deadline, voters’ rights would not be hindered because there were numerous other options for returning ballots, including measures taken to address voting during a pandemic and the addition of 1000 ballot deposit boxes. Moreover, as the Legislature argued, the voter assistance ban was necessary to combat election fraud by limiting the types of people who could handle ballots.
As to the mail-in receipt deadline extension, the court noted that the relief requested was excessive because it would not be limited to the elderly and disabled members of Plaintiff’s organization but would apply to all voters in Michigan. Finally, the court of appeals reversed the lower court granting of permanent injunctive relief and noted that it had been an abuse of discretion.