City listed in ballot lawsuit
LANSING – The city of Manistique is among 70 communities now listed in a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice. The lawsuit comes after the involved local city and township clerks missed state and federal deadlines for providing absentee ballots to military and overseas voters for the August primary election, according to Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.
Ballots must be provided to military and overseas voters who request them at least 45 days before an election, either by traditional mail or by email, a news release from the SOS explains.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in the United States District Court in the Western District of Michigan – Southern Division. Included in the lawsuit was a request for a temporary restraining order on the cities and townships accused of non-compliance. However, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker denied this request, stating the DOJ did not give “the adverse parties notice and opportunity to be heard.”
Also in the lawsuit was a motion for a preliminary injunction, for which Jonker set a hearing for Friday at 4 p.m.
According to Manistique City Clerk Jeff King, the missed deadline consisted of a series of misunderstandings.
“The reason I missed the deadline is I went to training the week of the deadline, and, before I left, I didn’t have the ballot yet,” he explained. “When I returned, I sent the ballot.”
After sending the ballot, King explained that he got into contact with the wife of the sole military voter requesting one from the city, and she indicated that the service member had shredded the ballot.
“He said he didn’t care to vote in this election, and wasn’t sure why he had received one,” said King. “I don’t think that he knows that once you sign up for an absentee ballot, you get one for each election that year. He had filled one out for the February primary.”
According to a press release from Johnson, a lawsuit will likely mean that clerks who missed the 45-day deadline could be required to extend the time for receiving and counting the ballots only for affected voters in their communities.
“I contacted the Bureau of Elections, and they said that I should be good, because I got into contact with the voter, and he had received a ballot,” said King.
Two lists, one of 70 non-compliance cities and townships, and one of 215 non-responders were originally released by the SOS on July 27. Non-responders were classified as those who may have mailed the ballots, but did not complete the necessary Military and Overseas Ballot Transmittal Compliance Survey, confirming their compliance.
Numerous Upper Peninsula townships were placed on this list, including Hiawatha and Manistique townships. However, according to Schoolcraft County Clerk Dan McKinney, this was recently remedied. A list released by the SOS on Tuesday confirmed that both townships had been removed from the non-responder list.
According to the SOS release, Michigan is unique in that more than 1,500 local clerks are responsible for conducting elections, including absentee ballot duties. The Michigan Department of State provides oversight, support and direction to clerks. The Bureau of Elections sent at least three reminders to local clerks in advance of the 45-day deadline to issue the absentee ballots to military and overseas voters. In addition, the Bureau maintains an elections calendar to assist local clerks.
For now, Johnson has instructed clerks in affected communities to immediately contact military and overseas voters and to offer a new ballot if one was not received.
According to King, he has done what would be required from the state or the lawsuit, so, for now, the city should not have any further issues.