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Ballot Citizenship Checkbox Irks Some Farmington Hills Officials

City council members await results of a court challenge to Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson's decision to add a citizenship verification box to ballots.

Long-time Farmington Hills city council member Nancy Bates sees the new citizenship verification checkbox on Michigan ballots as an important safeguard for voters. 

But she appeared to be the only official at Monday night's city council study session who felt that way. Most feel the new requirement is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem, at best, and possibly an impediment to voters. 

The biggest problem, Mayor Barry Brickner said, is that Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a proposed law that would have required people to reaffirm their citizenship at the polls. City clerk Pam Smith said the issue is already in court, and state Director of Elections Chris Thomas "thinks there will be a decision on this" before November's general election. 

"Right now, it's not law that they have to fill it out," Smith said. "If they leave it blank, they get a ballot, just like everybody else." 

Smith said the Secretary of State's office issued a statement at around noon on primary election day in August that poll officials should allow people to vote if they did not check the box. Poll workers were to read those voters a statement that explained they were violating the law if they were a non-citizen attempting to vote. 

Bates asked what was required of people who registered, and Smith explained that her office does not require a birth certificate or citizenship documents. She said the Secretary of State's office requires those when people request a driver's license or state ID, but since 2008, Secretary of State office workers have not been required to ask whether a person is a citizen. 

"People are inadvertently registering to vote, we know that," Smith added. "We've dealt with a few." 

She said the federal Dept. of Homeland Security has contacted her office about non-citizens who were registered to vote. But Smith also noted she has not seen a single case of voter fraud since she began working for the city more than 20 years ago. 

Council member Randy Bruce said he felt the checkbox "is just going to muck up the machinery", and council member Ken Massey was concerned that, after implementing new technology that speeds up the voting process, the new requirement would just slow things down again. 

Bates, however, worried about voters who might see their vote "invalidated by someone who isn't entitled to vote. I don't understand all this resistance," she said.

Brickner said the Secretary of State controls the qualified voter list and should be eliminating dead voters and checking the lists for non-citizens. 

"That's not our job," he said. "They're supposed to be policing this."

Officials took no action, but will monitor the situation and come up with solutions pending the outcome of the court case. If the checkbox is upheld, Brickner suggested posting a sign to warn voters about citizenship requirements, rather than having poll workers speak with individual voters during what is expected to be a heavy turnout for the presidential election. 

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