LANSING, Mich. – A Michigan judge on Wednesday dismissed lawsuits challenging the secretary of state's mailing of absentee ballot applications to millions of voters who did not request one, ruling that Jocelyn Benson had “clear and broad” authority to do so.
State Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens' decision had been signaled after she rejected a request for a preliminary injunction in June. Benson, a Democrat, began sending the applications in May to all voters in the battleground state who were not already on permanent absentee ballot lists for the August primary and November general elections, as a way to encourage safe voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Stephens said Benson's actions are not contrary to election law.
“Defendant has clear and broad authority to provide advice and direction with respect to the conduct of elections and registrations. That is all she has done here: she has provided direction for conducting an election during an unprecedented global pandemic involving a highly contagious respiratory virus,” Stephens wrote.
She noted that voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment letting people vote absentee for any reason.
“The Secretary of State, as chief election officer of this state, merely sent applications that will make it easier for voters to exercise that constitutional right, should they choose to do so,” she said.
The consolidated suits were filed by Yvonne Black and Nevin Cooper-Keel, Republican candidates for the state House who later lost in the primary, and Robert Davis, an activist and serial litigant.
When Benson announced the mass mailing, she was criticized by President Donald Trump, who wrongly stated that she was sending absentee ballots, not applications. Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes on Wednesday accused Republicans of trying to suppress the vote and said they “are wasting Secretary Benson’s time and that of the courts.”
A record 2.5 million votes were cast in the primary three weeks ago, including a record 1.6 million absentee ballots that were submitted by mail, at a drop box or in a clerk's office.
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