United States District Court Judge Arthur Tarnow ruled yesterday that the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) could stay on the November ballot. In a 34-page ruling, the court found that “the MCRI engaged in systematic voter fraud by telling voters that they were signing a petition supporting affirmative action,” but that because such deception was used to gain petition signatures from people of all races the fraud, while unacceptable, was not a violation of the Voters Rights Act. The ruling builds on the findings of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission earlier this summer that concluded that the MCRI campaign engaged in an “organized and widespread” pattern of misrepresentation to gather the signatures to place the MCRI on the ballot. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission report contained the testimony of hundreds of petition signers—including those testifying at a hearing in Grand Rapids—who said that they were told that the MCRI was designed to protect affirmative action in the state rather than to eliminate it.
The court declared that the conduct of the MCRI in gathering signatures was “unprincipled” and stated that should the MCRI pass, “it will be stained by well-documented acts of fraud and deception” that Tarnow contends were not credibly denied by MCRI organizers. This deception was systematic and went beyond “mere ‘puffery’ and was in fact fraudulent because it objectively misrepresented the purpose of the petition,” with both circulators and the public being misled as to the purpose of the petition and the MCRI. However, rather than using this as a basis to remove the MCRI from the ballot, Tarnow argues that the MCRI’s effort “targeted all Michigan voters for deception without regard to race,” and as a consequence, the Voting Rights Act does not apply because it prohibits only practices that result in unequal access to the political process because of race. Tarnow states that the issue of voter fraud should have been addressed by state institutions including the Michigan Courts, the Board of State Canvassers, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Bureau of Elections, all of whom “demonstrated an almost complete institutional indifference to the credible allegations of voter fraud.” The opinion states that citizens of Michigan should be concerned by the indifference of Michigan’s institutions and their failure to investigate the fraud.
In a press release, one of the organizations that has been fighting the MCRI and pushed the question of voter fraud to the forefront—By Any Means Necessary (BAMN)—objected to Tarnow’s decision not to issue an injunction to remove the initiative from the ballot despite his contention that “the evidence overwhelmingly favors a finding that MCRI defendants engaged in voter fraud.” BAMN argues that the only two investigations into the issue of voter fraud, one by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and the District Court case, have both found widespread voter fraud, thereby suggesting that the MCRI should not be place on the ballot. Moreover, BAMN rejected Tarnow’s logic that because the fraudulent petition gathering effort did not target African-Americans exclusively; the Voting Rights Act does not apply. Shanta Driver, an attorney and national spokesperson for BAMN, said that “By that logic, all of the discriminatory schemes targeted at black voters in our nation’s history would still stand – the grand father clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests which targeted black voters throughout the American South also deprived millions of white people of their right to vote. Judge Tarnow’s logic is that because white people were victims as well, there is no protection for anyone.” In light of what she termed as Tarnow’s “absurd” logic, she also stated that BAMN would be appealing the decision.