LANSING, Mich. - Michigan’s requirement that independent statewide candidates collect at least 30,000 valid voter signatures is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled 2-1 Monday, upholding a lower judge.
An employee of the West Bloomfield Township Clerks office sorts absentee ballots by precinct and ballot number at the West Bloomfield Clerks office on October 31, 2020 in West Bloomfield, Michigan. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALS
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision kept intact a 12,000-signature threshold set by District Judge Victoria Roberts in 2019. The case began in 2018, when state attorney general candidate Chris Graveline’s name was ordered on the ballot after he and some voters sued.
Judges Karen Nelson Moore and Ronald Lee Gilman said the combination of the 30,000-signature minimum, a requirement that at least 100 come from half of 14 congressional districts and the state’s July filing deadline "imposes a severe burden on independent candidates." Only five states have a higher signature requirement, according to the majority.
The 2018 filing deadline came 50 days before major-party candidates for attorney general, who did not have to submit signatures, were nominated at conventions.
Graveline finished fourth in the race for attorney general with less than 2% of the vote. But his legal fight could ease future independent candidates’ ability to qualify.
"All told, Michigan’s system works to disadvantage independent candidates alone by requiring them to seek a significant number of signatures from an electorate that is not yet politically energized and to stake out positions in a race with yet undecided contours," Moore wrote.
Dissenting Judge Richard Allen Griffin said Michigan’s election law should not be nullified simply because one slow-to-act candidate did not meet requirements.
"Determining the appropriate signature threshold — whether 5,000, 12,000, 30,000, or some other number — is best left to Michigan’s elected representatives, not federal judges," he wrote.
A spokesman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who was sued in her official capacity as the state’s top election official, declined to comment on the decision and on the possibility of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.