The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled Wednesday that groups cannot offer Michigan citizens free or reduced-price rides to polling places.
This suit originally arose as three voter-advocacy organizations challenged a Michigan election Statute, MCL § 169.931(1)(f), which prevents anyone from hiring a ride service as a means to vote unless the voter is physically unable to walk. This law was enacted in order to combat voter fraud. The district court granted the voter-advocacy organizations’ motion to preliminarily enjoin the enforcement of this law, finding that it burdens fundamental voting rights.
However, the Sixth Circuit did not agree with this decision. The court stated that refusal of a stay would cause irreparable harm to the legislature because “any vote-hauling fraud that does occur would have affected the [Presidential] election itself.” This harm outweighs the harm that voter-advocacy organizations face because they have other means of transporting voters to the polls.
The court further elaborated:
The harm to the voter-advocacy organizations appears modest. There are other ways, without violating Michigan’s statute, to take voters to the polls. Volunteers can drive voters for free. Generally paid campaign workers—ones who are not specifically paid to take voters to the polls—may also fall outside the statute’s ban, as might using cars that are commercially rented for many different campaign purposes, only some of which are to haul voters. So the organizations’ resources will likely not go to waste. And with the expansion of mailed ballots in Michigan this year, there are likely fewer voters who need to be driven to the polls at all. A stay benefits the public interest more than harms it.
In his dissent, Judge Cole stated that “there is no actual evidence that the [voter-transportation] law has any fraud-prevention purpose.” Further, he argued that the majority’s argument is unpersuasive because simply providing rides to the polls does not amount to vote-hauling.