AP NEWS

Group drops part of voting suit, is OK with satellite sites

January 23, 2020 GMT

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A liberal group has dropped part of its lawsuit challenging Michigan’s law regarding same-day voter registration at polling places, after the state clarified that people can register to vote at satellite locations established by clerks.

Super PAC Priorities USA filed an amended suit Tuesday in the Court of Claims more than two months after suing. It cited a Jan. 13 memo in which the state elections bureau told local clerks that satellite offices — where people in a small number of communities have been able to cast absentee ballots for a number of election cycles — can also be used for voter registration up to and including on Election Day.

The guidance also said it is permissible to establish a satellite office at a polling location.

Michigan voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment expanding voting options, including by letting people register to vote at any time and then immediately vote. After passage of the ballot initiative, the Republican-led Legislature voted to limit in-person registration in the 14 days before an election to the local clerk’s office over objections from Democrats who said citizens should be able to also register at polling places.

Priorities USA abandoned its argument that forcing voters to travel to a clerk’s office to register is an undue burden, satisfied that clerks can use satellite locations for those with limited access to transportation. The suit continues to contest a documentation requirement and Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s policy excluding teens from being automatically registered to vote when they turn 17½ years old.

Two other suits brought by Priorities USA in federal court challenge restrictions on transporting voters to the polls, helping people apply for absentee ballots and a requirement that absentee ballots be rejected if the voter’s signature does not match what is on file.

“While we are encouraged by this recent victory, we know there’s still so much work to be done in Michigan,” said Guy Cecil, chairman of Washington, D.C.-based Priorities USA.

Satellite offices aren’t new but still aren’t commonplace, having been used by Detroit and Lansing. Their use may expand in the wake of the passage of the ballot initiative.

Jake Rollow, a spokesman for Benson, said voters amended the constitution to enable clerks to establish satellite locations with expanded options such as voter registration and no-reason absentee voting.

Sharon Dolente, voting rights strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said the elections bureau’s guidance was not a policy shift, because “a satellite office is a clerk’s office. ... But it’s helpful for them to put that out there in clear terms to the 1,600 clerks of the state,” especially with all the changes brought by the ballot proposal.

Satellite locations are especially needed in large cities and other densely populated areas like college campuses “where a lot of folks may need to be processed in a very short amount of time,” said Dolente, who is working with advocates to persuade clerks to add satellite offices. “Now with Prop 3 and everybody being able to vote absentee, the number of folks needing to be processed is going to go up.”

___

Follow David Eggert on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00