Judge: Michigan laws burden independent AG candidate
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan’s laws requiring independent candidates for attorney general to collect 30,000 valid voter signatures within six months are unconstitutionally burdensome, a federal judge ruled Monday, ordering that candidate Christopher Graveline’s name appear on the November ballot as long as his campaign gathered at least 5,000 signatures.
Graveline, who quit his job as a federal prosecutor to run, sued in July after gathering about 14,000 signatures before the filing deadline.
U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts in Detroit granted his request for a preliminary injunction, ruling that Michigan laws “severely burden” the constitutional rights of Graveline and three of his would-be voters who joined the lawsuit. She said the state’s election laws “operate to freeze the political status quo, and effectively bar independent candidates from accessing the ballot.”
Major- and minor-party candidates for attorney general, secretary of state and lieutenant governor are nominated at party conventions in August and do not need to submit signatures. Democrats over the weekend picked lawyer Dana Nessel for attorney general, while Republicans chose state House Speaker Tom Leonard. Attorney General Bill Schuette is term-limited and is the GOP nominee for governor.
Roberts said no independent candidate for statewide office has appeared on the ballot since the 30,000-signature requirement was instituted 30 years ago and she accepted the plaintiffs’ contention that Michigan’s requirement is among the most restrictive in the nation, surpassed by only five other states. But she limited her ruling to the case at hand.
“The Court makes no finding that Michigan’s elections laws have no constitutional application whatsoever,” she wrote. “Consideration of that may be left to another day.”
Under her decision, Graveline will make the ballot if the state Bureau of Elections determines he collected at least 5,000 valid signatures, including at least 100 from voters in each of at least half of the state’s 14 congressional districts. State attorneys had argued that Graveline only made it roughly halfway through his petition circulation because he started late — in June, 42 days before the deadline — instead of earlier in the year.
A spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, whose office includes the elections bureau, said the ruling was being reviewed.
Graveline, 45, until recently headed the violent crime unit at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit, prosecuting gang members and drug traffickers. He previously was an Army officer who prosecuted soldiers for abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
“It’s these types of statutes that are very much akin to some of the gerrymandering efforts that lock in and give political power solely to the two parties,” Graveline said. “That’s why I decided to challenge it and hopefully through this effort we’ll see a lowering of the signature requirement and we’ll allow other independents to gain access to the ballot.”
His lawsuit has drawn criticism from Nessel, whose spokesman last month called it “offensive.”
“Any effort by Graveline to challenge a process which ensures that candidates who appear on the ballot for these critically important offices are actually serious displays of unmitigated hubris and arrogance,” Lucas Bezzera said then. “Those who appear on the ballot in November ought to have earned the right to do so.”
Leonard’s campaign manager, Robbie Rankey, said that Leonard is focused on his campaign, and “this situation is between Mr. Graveline and the courts.”
There is some concern among Democrats that Graveline’s candidacy could hurt their bid to take the attorney general’s office, which they last won 20 years ago.
Graveline said both major parties try to paint independents as “spoiler candidates,” but it is not an “accurate representation of what I bring to the race.” He said he will appeal to both Republicans and Democrats who believe their parties have gone too far to the right and left.
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