By Tom Travis
The City of Flint is not complying with absentee balloting requirements approved by Michigan voters, Greater Flint American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) officials claimed Tuesday in a letter of complaint to Mayor Sheldon Neeley and Flint City Clerk Inez Brown.
The letter, titled Flint’s “Disenfranchisement of Absentee Voters,” said the Flint City Clerk’s office is violating legal requirements approved in 2018 by, in part, getting absentee ballots out to fewer than .1 percent of the city’s 75,000 registered voters within four weeks of the upcoming Aug. 4 election.
Signed by ACLU Voting Rights Strategist Sharon Dolente and ACLU Cooperating Attorney Alec Gibs, the letter calls for specific immediate changes, including opening up the Clerk’s Office and processing all outstanding requests for absentee ballots by the close of business Friday, July 10.
EVM reported Monday that in the face of an inquiry by the local ACLU Brown could not confirm the number of applications for mail-in ballots received so far nor the number of ballots that would be mailed out July 7. EVM has not yet confirmed that that happened.
EVM has requested and is expecting a response from the mayor’s office shortly.
The letter begins…
Dear Mayor Neeley and Clerk Brown:
In 2018, the voters of Michigan overwhelming approved an amendment to the Michigan Constitution that made it easier for eligible citizens to register to vote and vote. The ACLU of Michigan, through its Flint Area Lawyers Committee, has learned that the City of Flint is not complying with the requirements of the Michigan Constitution as to absentee voting. We are writing to urge you to correct these problems immediately so Flint voters can fully and fairly exercise their right to vote.
Unlawful Denial of In-Person Absentee Voting
With the passage of Proposal 3 in 2018, every registered voter has a constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot during the 40 days before an election. Mich. Const. 1963, Art. II, § 4(1)(g). Voters have
the right, “during the forty (40) days before an election,” to apply for, receive and submit their absentee ballot “in person or by mail.” Id. During that time, municipal clerks must “be available in at least one
(1) location to issue and receive absent voter ballots during the election officials’ regularly scheduled business hours.” Id. For the primary election on August 4, 2020, the 40-day period began on June 25,
The letter notes that the clerk’s office has not been open for in-person voting during the pandemic closure of City Hall. Closed signs have hung on the front doors of City Hall since the middle of March 2020.
The letter from the ACLU contends “the City of Flint is wholly and completely denying the voters of Flint the right to apply for, receive and/or submit their absentee ballot in person in violation of the Michigan Constitution.”
The letter continues…
Unlawful Delay in Processing Applications for Absentee Ballots
Under Michigan law, a clerk is required to issue a ballot “immediately upon receipt of the application.”MCL 168.761(1). Since absentee voting began for the August primary election, more than 1.3 million applications for an absentee ballot have been processed across Michigan and more than 1 million absentee ballots have been mailed to voters across Michigan.
According to news reports, the City of Flint has received approximately 10,000 applications for an absentee ballot. According to records reviewed by the ACLU of Michigan, the City of Flint has processed fewer than 100 absentee ballot applications and issued fewer than 100 absentee ballots to Flint voters.
With four weeks remaining before the August primary election, Flint has processed and mailed absentee ballots to less than 0.1% of the more than 74,000 registered voters in Flint. This low rate of
processing applications is concerning and plainly violates the legal requirement that applications be processed “immediately.”MCL 168.761(1).
With more than 10,000 applications received and fewer
than 100 ballots issued, the City of Flint is unlawfully delaying the processing of applications for absentee ballots. This delay threatens to disenfranchise the voters of Flint.
In a press conference on March 10, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said that mail-in ballot applications would be sent to Michigan’s 7.7 million registered voters. For the first time in history Michigan residents were given the option to mail in their ballots for the Aug. 4 primary election and the Nov. 3 general election which includes the U.S. presidential election.
Immediate Action Requested
The ACLU of Greater Flint ends their letter by requesting immediate action.
The ACLU of Michigan seeks to work with local clerks to ensure that the rights of voters are secured in every election. While we recognize the Covid-19 pandemic presents challenges for local election
officials and local governments, the voters of Flint must have full and fair access to the ballot, which includes access to absentee voting by mail and in person. Election officials are essential workers because
it is critical that we maintain our democratic processes during even these trying times. We request that you immediately take the following steps to comply with the law:
(1) open the clerk’s office immediately and remain open during published, regularly scheduled business hours between now and Election Day so that eligible citizens may apply for, receive and
submit their absentee ballot in person;
(2) process all outstanding applications for absentee ballots, including mailing an absentee ballot to every eligible voter who has requested one by close of business on Friday, July 10, 2020; and
(3) process all applications for absentee ballots that you receive between now and Election Day, including mailing an absentee ballot to every eligible voter who requests one, within 24 hours of
your receipt of the application.
Time is of the essence to ensure that all in Flint have the right to vote. Please respond to this letter in writing no later than the close of business on Wednesday, July 8, with detailed assurances that the City of Flint will comply with our requests.
The letter is signed by Sharon Dolente, Voting Rights Strategist and Alec Gibbs, Cooperating Attorney for the ACLU of Michigan. Disclosure: Gibbs is on the board of East Village Magazine.
EVM assistant editor and democracy beat reporter Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org