Two separate lawsuits were filed in Michigan yesterday against Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, challenging the emergency police powers they have wielded in their decisions in response to COVID-19, arguing that these powers have resulted in a suppression of free speech, interference in the election process, and undermining our constitutional legal system.
The first lawsuit was filed by the Election Integrity Fund against Benson, challenging her push for individuals to be able to apply for absentee ballots online ahead of this year’s elections.
“The online system fails to comply with Michigan law and invites fraud,” the lawsuit states. It points to the fact that applicants are not required to provide their signatures, which goes against the Secretary’s requirement that when processing ballots, officials compare the signature on the ballot to the voter’s signature already on file.
“Without a real signature on the application, election officials have no signature to check against the voter signature that is already on file – a crucial anti-fraud protection.”
Election Integrity Fund is a Michigan-based, grassroots non-profit that aims to protect election integrity.
Benson has defended her efforts to broaden access to absentee voting in the midst of COVID-19: “There is absolutely zero difference between voting by mail and voting absentee. Millions of Americans have been voting absentee for decades.”
Those involved in the lawsuit disagree. “Governor Whitmer and Secretary Benson’s attempt to drastically change election processes at the 11th hour would allow anyone with internet access to vote by mail, with no way to verify who requested the ballot or who actually cast the vote, as long as they claim to be a self-quaranting voter,” said Catherine Engelbrecht.
Engelbrecht is the founder and president of True the Vote, an organization founded in 2009 to protect the integrity of elections against fraud. True the Vote is a partner in The Amistad Project, an arm of the Thomas More Society, a conservative law firm representing the plaintiffs in both lawsuits.
The second lawsuit was filed by the Election Integrity Fund in partnership with One Nation Michigan, a Detroit-based organization founded by a group of urban pastors to promote “reasonable and responsible dialogue on race.”
This second lawsuit challenges Governor Whitmer’s assumption of emergency powers since she declared a state of emergency on March 10th in response to COVID-19.
“…the governor has failed to create adequate breathing space for Michiganders who want to engage in in-person First Amendment speech and association,” states the lawsuit.
Whitmer has banned indoor gatherings exceeding 10 people and outdoor gatherings exceeding 100 people. The lawsuit states that these restrictions have greatly hampered the political rights of Michigan citizens, prohibiting them from engaging in normal political activity in an election year.
“…the Governor’s decrees virtually eliminate retail politics. This necessarily forces most public debate online or over the mass media. This is an inadequate alternative to real, in-person communication because it is expensive and impersonal.”
The lawsuit argues that this discriminates against the small, grassroots political movements that cannot rely as heavily on social media and other online platforms, favoring incumbents and other more well-established political campaigns.
Further, “these restrictions came not by way of legislation but by way of emergency executive orders issued by one person acting without rule making, notice, or a hearing.”
In a statement released about the lawsuit, One Nation Michigan president Dr. Linda Lee Tarver said that “no one person, claiming to be the law, should hold such speech and gathering hostage by the threat of criminal prosecution, especially during an election season.”
Phill Kline, director of the Amistad Project, denounced the actions of a single governor “making decisions based on counsel behind closed doors which disenfranchises Michigan citizens and their elected legislature.”
“Fortunately, the Bill of Rights measures our freedom, not science nor the Governor and the Bill of Rights is still alive, even in a pandemic.”