The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday declined to let Michigan's new ban on straight-party voting take effect for the November election, rejecting state officials' request to halt lower court rulings that blocked the Republican-sponsored law.
The court's decision means voters will still be able to use the popular straight-ticket option, which allows them to support all candidates from one party with a single mark.
In issuing a preliminary injunction in July, a federal district judge ruled the law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder would create longer lines and disproportionately burden black voters who are more likely to use the straight-ticket option. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month denied a request by Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson for a stay pending appeal.
So did the Supreme Court. Two justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, said they would have granted the request.
Forty other states prohibit straight-party voting. The practice was once more common, according to the National Conference of State Legislators:
The number of states offering straight ticket voting has been declining in popularity over time. Most recently, Wisconsin eliminated it in 2011, North Carolina in 2013, Rhode Island in 2014 and West Virginia in 2015. Every year several bills are introduced to eliminate it, and occasionally bills are introduced to establish straight ticket voting.
The nine other states that permit straight-ticket voting are Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah, according to the NCSL.
The option is popular in Michigan cities with large black populations. It has been on the books for 125 years and has been a common choice in some counties that are steadfastly loyal to Republicans, too.
Snyder and majority GOP lawmakers enacted the straight-party voting ban in January, saying the option was rare nationally and getting rid of it would lead to a better-informed electorate.
Democrats accused the GOP of seeking partisan gain, particularly in down-ballot races for the state Board of Education and university boards. Some, alluding to the belief that candidates at the top of the ballot influence lower-level elections, also said Republicans were trying to inoculate themselves if presidential candidate Donald Trump is beaten badly by Hillary Clinton.
The lawsuit challenging the law was filed by attorney Mark Brewer, former head of the state Democratic Party, on behalf of three people and a union-affiliated group.
The case is not over.
The three-judge 6th Circuit panel that declined to intervene immediately will next fully consider the state's appeal of U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain's injunction, the outcome of which will affect future elections. Separately, Drain will schedule a trial on whether he should permanently stop the law from taking effect.
Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon, who accused Schuette of wasting state money on the "Hail Mary" appeal, said while the straight-ticket option is intact for November, "there's no doubt in my mind that this fight is not over."
Voting laws and polling-site access have become hot-button issues this election season. Just last week, the Supreme Court struck down North Carolina's attempt to reinstate voter ID laws. In Nevada, two native American tribes have sued the state for failing to provide polling stations near their reservations.