The state of Michigan cannot eliminate single-punch, straight-party voting because it would result in long lines at polling stations that “intentionally discriminated against African-Americans,” ruled U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain.
The Michigan legislature passed a bill eliminating the single-punch option in 2015. Drain issued an injunction against implementing it, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case at that time, allowing voters to continue to use the single-punch option in 2016. About half of Michigan voters cast single-punch, straight-party votes in that election, including most African-American voters, who overwhelmingly voted Democratic.
“The Court finds that eliminating the Democratic Party’s success with straight-ticket voters – success especially driven by African-Americans residing in communities with high voting-age African-American populations – was a motivating consideration in the Michigan Legislature’s” enacting the ban, Drain wrote. “The goal of ending the Democratic Party’s success with straight-ticket voters, therefore, was achieved at the expense of African-Americans’ access to the ballot.”
Drain ruled that eliminating the single-punch option would lead to longer lines and wait times at polling stations, and these longer lines will deter voters from casting ballots. Because African-Americans cast straight-party ballots at much higher rates than Anglo voters in Michigan, the effect would be disproportionately impactful on African-American precincts.
Just 10 states provide voters with a single-punch, straight-party option, including Texas and, per the court, Michigan. However, the Texas Legislature passed a bill in 2017 that would eliminate it beginning in 2020. Texans use the single-punch option more than voters in any other state where it is offered, but more often than not they use it to cast Republican straight-party votes. Ten states have abolished or abandoned the single-punch option since 1994.
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