Advance Notice: Briefs

Court of Claims tosses GOP suit challenging use of grant funds in Michigan election administration

By: - March 23, 2022 9:45 am

East Lansing voting precinct | Susan J. Demas

A court of claims judge dismissed a GOP lawsuit challenging the use of private funds for election administration Tuesday, ruling that the plaintiffs lack standing.

The suit, originally filed in October 2020 by Republican voters in Macomb, Livingston and Oakland counties, argued that private grant money awarded to local governments by the Center for Technology and Civic Life violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Michigan Constitution, alleging that the funds were intended to favor one group of voters over another depending on which jurisdictions were awarded the funds.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson at Ford Field in Detroit, Nov. 3, 2020 | Andrew Roth

Judge Thomas Cameron ruled in Ryan v. Benson that the plaintiffs lacked standing as they each lived in a jurisdiction that received grant funding and there was no evidence that the secretary of state’s office had attempted to funnel the grant money to only certain jurisdictions over others.

“To that end, plaintiffs fail to allege or establish a harm or injury that is different from the citizenry at large. Notably, it appears to be undisputed at this time that no counties or jurisdictions — in particular, the jurisdictions in which plaintiffs reside — were denied access to the funds at issue. This undermines plaintiffs’ assertion of standing with respect to the constitutional violations they have alleged,” Cameron’s opinion reads. “In other words, without the targeted access to funds that was once alleged, plaintiffs fail to state an injury that is different from that of the citizenry at large. And in all other respects, the complaint contains allegations that are not unique to plaintiffs or that are not otherwise distinguishable from any concerns that might be held by the public at large.”

The court also noted that the complained-of-conduct occurred 18 months ago, rendering it “stale conduct” that they will not weigh in on, while requests to ban the receipt of funds in the future is based on hypotheticals, which would require the court to “engage in pure speculation concerning the manner in which such funds might be offered and whether such a hypothetical offering might somehow be impermissible.”

“The court will not engage in a hypothetical discussion that sometime in the future local election officials will accept private funding in some yet-to-be-determined way,” the opinion says.

The lawsuit was one of several filed challenging the conduct and results of the 2020 presidential election as former President Donald Trump and other Republicans continue to spread baseless allegations about the legitimacy of the election.

“From the beginning, this lawsuit was filed in an attempt to undermine the integrity of our elections and results,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “We may be more than two years beyond the 2020 presidential election, but our team remains committed to defending the Secretary of State against baseless allegations stemming from it. And as we get closer to this November, let this outcome serve as a reminder of our dedication to upholding and defending democracy.”

One of the main sources for the baseless claims stemmed from clerks not being allowed to begin counting absentee ballots, which favored Democrats, until Election Day.

Benson said the case serves as a reminder that reforms by the federal government and state Legislature may be needed to allow local governments to conduct their elections more efficiently, including increased funding.

“This case was yet another example of the misuse and abuse of our legal system to wrongly sow seeds of doubt about the integrity of our elections,” Benson said. “It was meritless and misguided and the court rightly noted the ability for nonpartisan nonprofit organizations to work directly with local communities to ensure they have the support they need to protect and count every valid vote. It further underscores the need for the legislature and federal government to provide sustained funding for elections, so that clerks across the state and political spectrum have consistent and sufficient funds to run accessible and secure elections

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Andrew Roth
Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth is a reporting intern with the Michigan Advance. He has been covering Michigan policy and politics for three years across a number of publications and studies journalism at Michigan State University.