The city of Detroit plans to remove a citizenship question from ballot applications before the November election - another direct challenge to the Republican secretary of state's authority to require the check-off box.
"There's no mandate," Detroit Elections Director Daniel Baxter told MLive on Wednesday. "The governor vetoed that part of the bill. There's no legal requirement for electors to declare their citizenship when they go to vote. That's the bottom line."
Election workers will black out the box ordered by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, he said.
Johnson spokeswoman Gisgie Gendreau said Johnson still expects local clerks to use the form prescribed by her. She said Detroit's elections bureau - at the request of the state elections bureau - agreed on Wednesday to hold off on covering up the citizenship box until a federal judge rules in a related lawsuit.
Baxter could not be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon.
The state on Tuesday sent instructions to clerks noting that - consistent with an October 2011 communication - existing ballot applications without the citizenship question could only be used through the August primary but it should appear on all applications starting with the Nov. 6 election.
Detroit, the state's largest municipality to administer elections, has about 560,000 registered voters.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and other groups sued last week to stop Johnson - the top elections official in the state - from requiring local clerks to ask the citizenship question.
It already is asked when people register to vote, and Johnson says she is just trying to give non-citizens who registered before 2008 - likely accidentally - one last chance to avoid breaking the law. She estimates up to 4,000 of Michigan's 1.7 million registered voters could be non-citizens, though that number has not been confirmed. (She blames the Obama administration for not giving her access to complete citizenship data).
Opponents say Johnson is trying to suppress votes, and they predict confusion as the polls.
"We have to face this issue, not ignore it, or we are doing a disservice to every legitimate voter in Michigan." - Ruth JohnsonIn deciding not to ask the citizenship question, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey is following similar movesannounced by Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh,Ingham County Clerk Mike Bryanton and the Washtenaw County Election Commission.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, in vetoing a bill in July that would have required voters to check a citizenship box, said he worried it could cause confusion especially for older residents who request absentee ballots. He later said he thought the bill asked too much of voters "at a point in life where you may not see as well, you may not follow through every detail as well ... or not understand that box fully."
He said he instead prefers having them sign a declaration on the applicationthat would be updated with language saying he or she is a U.S. citizen.
State Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer said Wednesday that Detroit is making the correct decision to defy the secretary of state.
"Adding the citizenship box is not authorized by law. It has caused tremendous confusion. The secretary of state herself has inconsistently applied it," he said, citing the August primary election, when Johnson had to send a clarifying directive to clerkstelling them voters did not have to answer the question to get a ballot.
Johnson has said she can put the citizenship box on ballot applications under her power to prescribe election forms.
"We have to face this issue, not ignore it, or we are doing a disservice to every legitimate voter in Michigan," she said last week.