LDF-Backed Michigan Lawsuit Challenging Secretary of State’s Signature Matching Guidance Successful
In a lawsuit supported by LDF, Judge Christopher Murray of the Michigan Court of Claims held that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s last-minute signature matching guidance violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).
While Michigan law clearly requires signatures on absentee ballot applications and return envelopes to sufficiently agree with those on the voter file to be valid, Secretary Benson issued guidance in October requiring local clerks in charge of reviewing signatures to presume the signatures on absentee ballot applications and ballots were valid and to further accept the signatures as valid if they contained “any redeeming qualities.”
LDF backed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the Secretary’s guidance, arguing it was issued in violation of the APA because it bound local clerks in future elections to the rules without going through rulemaking procedures.
The Court agreed, holding “the standards issued by defendant Benson on October 6, 2020, with respect to signature-matching requirements amounted to a ‘rule’ that should have been promulgated in accordance with the APA. And absent compliance with the APA, the ‘rule’ is invalid.”
The Court continued, holding that the Secretary’s “mandatory directive…requir[ing] local election officials to apply a presumption of validity to all signatures on absent voter ballot applications and on absent voter ballots” violated the APA because it “goes beyond the realm of mere advice and direction, and instead is a substantive directive that adds to the pertinent signature-matching statutes.”