ACLU and Advancement Project Challenge Unlawful Disenfranchisement of Michigan Resident

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

James Freedland, ACLU, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Tia T. Gordon, Advancement Project, (202) 728-9557 or (202) 906-0149

ACLU and Advancement Project Challenge Unlawful Disenfranchisement of Michigan Resident

Wife of US Serviceman Was Target of Unlawful Statewide Voter Purge Program

DETROIT - Today,
Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union and Pepper
Hamilton LLP filed a motion on behalf of Lisa A. Blehm - a Michigan
resident who was improperly disenfranchised in the November election -
that would allow her to join a previously filed voting rights lawsuit
challenging the state's unlawful voter purge programs. The motion was
filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
against Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, Michigan Bureau of
Elections Director Christopher M. Thomas and Standish City Clerk
Rebecca Lakin.

In September 2008, Blehm's attorneys
filed a lawsuit on behalf of the United States Student Association
Foundation, the ACLU, the ACLU of Michigan and the Michigan State
Conference of NAACP Branches challenging two statewide voter purge
programs that unlawfully remove thousands of Michigan voters per year
from the rolls. Blehm became a victim of one of those programs, which
immediately cancels the voter registrations of Michigan voters who
obtain driver's licenses in other states, without issuing the
appropriate confirmation of registration notices and following the
other voter removal procedures required by the National Voter
Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). 

After registering to vote in 2006
using her home address in Standish, Michigan, Blehm temporarily
relocated to Georgia in 2007 to join her husband, a Marine who had been
temporarily deployed there. While in Georgia, Blehm obtained a driver's
license, but specifically declined to register to vote in the state
because she fully intended to maintain her permanent residency and
voting status in Standish. Around June 2008, after her husband's
assignment in Georgia was complete, Blehm and her husband returned to
their home and permanent residence in Michigan. 

Then on November 4, 2008, Blehm went
to her assigned polling place at Standish City Hall to vote, only to be
refused by a poll worker, who told her that she was not registered to
vote and would not be able to vote in the election. In addition,
despite the explicit requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act
of 2002 (HAVA) and the Michigan Election Law, the poll worker did not
offer Blehm the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot.

"Lisa's story is a prime example of
how Michigan's unlawful purging programs have devastating real-world
consequences," said Bradley Heard, senior attorney with Advancement
Project. "The state and city election officials' actions in this case
are blatant violations of the NVRA and HAVA, and those officials should
be held accountable for those actions by the courts."

Michigan Bureau of Elections
Director Thomas admitted in the lawsuit that approximately 72,000
voters a year are purged in the same manner as Blehm. And in October
2008, U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Murphy III ruled that this voter
removal program violated the NVRA. Nevertheless, the state refused to
restore Blehm and the other affected voters to the rolls in advance of
the presidential election.

"Although election officials broke
the law when they denied Lisa Blehm the right to vote, we are hopeful
that the courts will put an end to misguided attempts at
disenfranchising lawful registered voters so this doesn't happen in the
future," said Meredith Bell-Platts, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting
Rights Project. "The fundamental right of every eligible voter to
participate in the electoral process is sacred and must be protected
from the whims of partisan politicians. It's tragic that election
officials must be reminded that adhering to the Constitution and
following federal law are not optional."

Attorneys in today's filing are
Heard of Advancement Project; Bell-Platts of the ACLU Voting Rights
Project; Michael Steinberg and Kary Moss of the ACLU of Michigan; and
Matthew J. Lund, Mary K. Deon and Deborah Kovsky-Apap of Pepper
Hamilton LLP.

Legal documents in this case, including today's motion, are available at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/gen/36838res20080917.html
 
More information on the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available at: www.votingrights.org

More information on Advancement Project is available at: www.advancementproject.org

 

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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