Liberal super PAC sues Michigan over voting restrictions

A federal lawsuit by liberal super PAC Priorities USA argues that helping poor or disabled voters get to the polls or submit absentee ballots should be encouraged, not banned, by the state.  (Bridge file photo)


A liberal super PAC that plans to spend millions in Michigan in 2020 has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel, arguing certain laws that restrict voter services are illegal and asking the court to stop Nessel from enforcing them. 

The group, Priorities USA, argues in the suit that two Michigan laws — one prohibiting people from hiring vehicles to transport voters who can otherwise walk to the polls and another barring people from handling other peoples’ absentee ballots — are “unreasonable and unnecessary obstacles to voting” and are therefore unconstitutional. 

“Together, the Voter Transportation Ban and the Absentee Ballot Organizing Ban make it even more difficult for voters for whom voting is already difficult — in particular, voters without access to private transportation — to vote,” the group wrote in a legal brief. 

If these were legal, Priorities USA argues, the group would fund rides to the polls and services that help people submit absentee ballots. Rideshare company Uber offered discounted rides to polls in every state except Michigan in 2018 because of these laws, the lawsuit, filed Tuesday, notes. 

Priorities USA, which is based in Washington, D.C., and supports Democratic candidates and issues around the country, filed a similar lawsuit against Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson late last month. It argued in that case that a Michigan law requiring signatures on applications for absentee ballots to match that person’s signature from when they registered to vote is unconstitutional. 

The signature matching requirement makes voting “contingent on the State’s arbitrary and standardless ... laws, which have disenfranchised hundreds of voters in recent elections for no other reason than an election official’s subjective and arbitrary determination that a voter’s signature on an absentee ballot (or ballot application) did not match a prior signature that the voter provided to election officials,” the complaint read. 

"MDOS takes this issue very seriously, and wants to ensure that all legitimate votes are counted in every election," said Secretary of State spokesman Jake Rollow. "We are reviewing the specific allegations in this suit and will determine if our systems need improvement.”

Nessel could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. 

“Priorities USA is fully committed to fighting against suppressive voting laws that make it increasingly difficult for marginalized and underrepresented communities to vote in Michigan and around the country,” said Guy Cecil, Priorities USA chairman, in a statement Wednesday.

Laura Cox, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, said in a statement that the lawsuits are an example of Democrats working to weaken election laws that stop voter fraud.

“In states without strong absentee ballot protections we have seen numerous examples of massive vote harvesting, and other forms of election fraud,” Cox said. “The Michigan Republican Party will fight any attempt to undermine the integrity of our states elections or the security of our citizens ballots.”

Absentee voting rights in Michigan were expanded in 2018 through a statewide ballot proposal that guaranteed a right to no-reason absentee voting. Priorities USA argues in its complaint that there are other protections in place, such as laws against forging signatures on absentee ballot applications and tampering with absentee ballots, that already protect against voter fraud. 

Priorities USA is a super PAC, which means it can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and others and spend as much as it wants to directly advocate for candidates. It was the highest-spending super PAC nationally in the 2016 election cycle, during which it spent more than $133 million supporting Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics

The group announced in July it plans to spend $100 million on ads, social media and other communications strategies in 2020 in swing states, including Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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Chris Duco
Wed, 11/13/2019 - 3:34pm

Tax dollars should NEVER be spent on assisting anyone to vote beyond subsidizing ID purchases which should be required to cast a ballot. Elections are swayed when a demographic is assisted be that demographic rich black women or poor homeless white men.

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 3:34pm

Democracy! Its great! (Unless we have to spend any amount of money to make it actually accessible)

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 6:18am

"Elections are swayed when a demographic is assisted be that demographic rich black women or poor homeless white men." Would you have an example of this you could cite? The Supreme Court decided Bush v Gore, the Electoral College decided Trump v Clinton.

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 9:27am

So true. Every citizen needs to pay attention to leaders who just lie to get reelected.

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 9:46am

I'm not sure you read the article, this has nothing to do with tax dollars, this is a PAC which gets their money from donors.
Hopefully the AG can work to undo some of the overly restrictive voter laws which have nothing to do with fraudulent voting and have everything to do with suppressing the votes of working class and poor voters. Voter fraud is less common than death by lightning strikes! It is a myth made up from whole cloth.

Marlene Lott
Thu, 11/14/2019 - 10:47am

There is no justification whatsoever to allow someone else to handle an absentee ballot, these people can mail them. As for the rides, that too should not be allowed, as people in walking distance from the polls should do so or get a cab, or VOTE BY ABSENTEE ballot since you no longer need a reason.

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 11:04am

As I read Laura Cox's comments in this article about the potential for fraud helping people get to the polls or helping people vote, I think of the few criminal arrests in the last Presidential election--there were two as I recall, and both were Republican voters. Cox's comment is just linked to the White House and lies about voter fraud. Too bad Cox and Republicans don't work to address how much effort they expend nationally and in States to bar people from voting.

I hope that the two suits filed end the "fraud" perpetrated by the State Legislature and the last Governor whose legacy of poisoning children and families in Flint lives on--do see the recent New York Times article about the many children damaged for life by the policies of the nerd businessman who was Governor.

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 12:28pm

Of course the dems want to eliminate these restrictions so that they can go to the dementia floors of senior living centers and harvest all the votes they can get. My mother was elderly and in am assisted living center. I can say that she and most of the other people there would have voted for whoever they were told to vote for, and perhaps if not caught, voted multiple times, all the while not having any recognition of what they were doing.

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 2:42pm

Any law that has the potential to restrict voting should be based on rock solid justification. As the article clearly states Uber can give discounted rides to polling places in every state, but Michigan, because of these arcane laws. Why can they do it in every other state? Can they document that Uber does something different in Michigan .
Additionally it is ridiculous to grant election workers, who have scant if any training on detecting forged signatures the authority to reject ballots. The right to have your vote count should not be so frivolously infringed upon.

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 3:36pm

Noticeably absent from your assertion about fraud: Even a modicum of proof.

Frank Koob
Thu, 11/14/2019 - 5:57pm

We all learn from our basic logic course in college that arguing from the point of absurdity is a fallacy of argument. This gentleman seems to be ignoring that and using that argument.

middle of the mit
Fri, 11/15/2019 - 11:36pm

Are you saying your mom would vote for whoever you told her to vote for, whether or not that may or may not be who she would have voted for when she was cognizant?

Isn't that more of a case for disallowing people who can't understand what they are voting for from voting, even when their kids tell them who to vote for? Or doesn't that work out in your favor?

Just askin'.

Fri, 11/15/2019 - 11:35am

I am not adverse to changing state law to allow individuals to volunteer to other individuals or groups to serve as drivers to get registered voters to the polls. But I am totally against unaccountable, opaque SuperPACs paying people to recruit and then transport any voters anywhere at any time connected with their votes. If Priorities USA wins this lawsuit, we could see them paying church members, or more likely making contributions directly to the church as a fig leaf to hide the fact that they are "buying" votes. Their hired political operatives would bus these groups to the county/city clerk's office to register, and then to the polls to vote. That sort of "dollars for votes" shenanigans is one reason so many churches in states that allow this practice welcome "Souls to the Polls" programs from Priorities USA and similar SuperPACs.

As far as having PAC employees or contractors "helping" people to apply for and fill out absentee ballots, our current laws are entirely appropriate. No one except a Secretary of State employee, an employee of the city or county clerk's office (including part time electors/ poll workers) or family members of the voter should be allowed to handle anybody's application for or actual absentee ballot. We should NOT open the door to ballot harvesting in Michigan by either political party or any individual candidate.

middle of the mit
Fri, 11/15/2019 - 11:46pm

I didn't see anywhere in the article where what happened in North Carolina would be able to happen here. They were simply offering people who couldn't drive to the polls to drive them to the polls and drop off their ballot.

I would think that would be preferable to conservatives because it takes the delivery out of the hands of EVIL United States Postal Service.

But have you seen how they have SQUAWKED?


Heaven help us!

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 8:23am

Any changes to voting rules should not be implemented for at least 4 years to prevent someone from trying to influence a particular upcoming election. Michigan is an important state for 2020, and a prime target for trying to implement voter fraud.

Sun, 11/17/2019 - 11:41am

...'and a prime target for trying to implement voter fraud.'
You mean 'gerrymandering', right. That's how the Michigan GOP has managed to defraud Michigan voters for the last 25 years.
But Russian interference is OK? A simple yes or no is sufficient.

Jim tomlinson
Sun, 11/17/2019 - 2:57pm

Cons. Doing all they can to suppress voter turnout. Its the only way they can maintain power. Govt should do whAt it can to enfranchise the public. Its an investment in democracy.

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 3:03pm

How 'bout expanding party affiliation by having better ideas that make a more diverse group of people want to join and vote as opposed to codifying your hatred of others in restrictive voting laws that disenfranchise people? I used to be a republican until their White Christian Nationalist litmus test drove me off. Groups should be able to rent a party bus and subsidize the rides of their less fortunate friends if it gets them to the ballot box. If we were serious about the pride we claim to have for our democratic traditions Election Day would be a National Holiday. On the other hand I don't think ballots should ever be handled by people other than the voter and election officials.