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Liberal super PAC sues Michigan over voting restrictions

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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