University of Michigan Law School
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Case Name Powell v. Benson VR-MI-0080
Docket / Court 2:20-cv-11023 ( E.D. Mich. )
State/Territory Michigan
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Election/Voting Rights
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Case Summary
NOTE: This case is being tracked in close to real time by the Stanford/MIT Healthy Elections Project. So for more current information, see their tracker. This suit was filed on April 25, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for ... read more >
NOTE: This case is being tracked in close to real time by the Stanford/MIT Healthy Elections Project. So for more current information, see their tracker. This suit was filed on April 25, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The suit was brought by two individual plaintiffs, each blind, against Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Michigan Director of Elections Jonathan Brater. The plaintiffs were represented by private counsel. The lawsuit argued that the system for administering absentee ballots was insufficient for blind people, especially regarding the lack of privacy and independence. This was especially important as Secretary of State Benson sent absentee ballot applications to all eligible Michigan voters amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The suit alleged this insufficiency constituted a violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Moreover, a regulation pursuant to the ADA required any aid administered to protect the privacy and independence of people with disabilities. The plaintiffs also sued under Michigan state law, citing the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act. This act prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities on the basis of that disability with regard to public services. They sought a preliminary and permanent injunction, requiring defendants to create a more accessible form of absentee voting, and declaratory relief. They also sought attorney's costs and fees.

The plaintiffs simultaneously submitted a motion for a preliminary injunction. In addition to the claims made in the complaint, they also added that failure to provide adequate absentee voting systems would result in spread of the virus. The plaintiffs added that the balance of equities weighs in their favor and that they would suffer irreparable harm without the relief.

The case was assigned to District Judge Gershwin A. Drain and Magistrate Judge Michael J. Hluchaniuk.

Three days later, on April 28, the plaintiffs submitted an amended complaint, which left the claims more or less the same, but added the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan as a plaintiff.

On May 1, in response to a motion for a temporary restraining order, the parties entered into a consent order which would make Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) ballots eligible to voters who swore to be blind or severely disabled. Voters were given until May 5 to register. However, by May 15, the parties agreed to a more comprehensive and longer-lasting consent order. The order required that defendants establish a remote accessible vote-by-mail system (RAVBM) by the August primary elections. If this were to become impracticable, defendants would have to inform the plaintiffs immediately and expand the (UOCAVA) system. The order lasted 30 months after the effective date.

On June 29, the defendants submitted a status report which said that they found that implementing a RAVBM system by the time of the election would have been impracticable. Instead, they opted for expansion of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act system.

However, this was not satisfactory to the plaintiffs. On the same day, they filed a motion to hold the defendants and their attorneys in civil contempt and to enforce the consent order. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants had not made a good-faith effort to implement the RAVBM system, they failed to offer online absentee voting applications in an equal manner, and by failing to issue a timely press release.

Regarding the failure to implement the RAVBM system, on July 13 the judge ordered defendants to continue with the UOCAVA system, to modify the online absentee ballot request system in order to make it more accessible, and to continue implementation of the RAVBM system. While the schedule for the last item would not make the RAVBM system ready by the primary election, it was to be fully implemented by September 10, 2020, well ahead of the November general election. The court did not rule on the motion to hold defendants in civil contempt in this order.

The case is ongoing as of July 28, 2020.

Jack Hibbard - 07/28/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Content of Injunction
Develop anti-discrimination policy
Discrimination Prohibition
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
Disability
disability, unspecified
Visual impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
General
Voting
Voting access
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Voting
Election administration
Voter registration rules
Causes of Action Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 12111 et seq.
State law
Defendant(s) Michigan Director of Elections Jonathan Brater
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson
Plaintiff Description Two blind voters and the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Filed 04/25/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Docket(s)
2:20-cv-11023 (E.D. Mich.)
VR-MI-0080-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/31/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
VR-MI-0080-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/25/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 2]
VR-MI-0080-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/25/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 13]
VR-MI-0080-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/28/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Stipulation and Consent Order Resolving Plaintiffs' Motion for Temporary Restraining Order [ECF #16] [ECF# 24] (E.D. Mich.)
VR-MI-0080-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/01/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Consent Decree [ECF# 31] (E.D. Mich.)
VR-MI-0080-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/19/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment of Civil Contempt Against Jocelyn Benson, Jonathan Brater, Erik Grill, and Heather Meingast, and to Enforce the Consent Decree [ECF #31] [ECF# 33]
VR-MI-0080-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/29/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendants' Amended Status Report 06/29/2020 [ECF# 36, 36-2]
VR-MI-0080-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/29/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Regarding Implementation of Consent Decree [#31] [ECF# 48] (E.D. Mich.)
VR-MI-0080-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/31/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Drain, Gershwin Allen (E.D. Mich.) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0080-0004 | VR-MI-0080-0005 | VR-MI-0080-0008 | VR-MI-0080-9000
Hluchaniuk, Michael J. (E.D. Mich.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
VR-MI-0080-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Hill, Eve Lynne (Maryland) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0080-0003 | VR-MI-0080-0004 | VR-MI-0080-0005 | VR-MI-0080-0006 | VR-MI-0080-9000
Kaiser, Ryan Thomas (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0080-0001 | VR-MI-0080-0002 | VR-MI-0080-0003 | VR-MI-0080-0004 | VR-MI-0080-0005 | VR-MI-0080-0006 | VR-MI-0080-9000
Mittleman, David S (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0080-0001 | VR-MI-0080-0002 | VR-MI-0080-0003 | VR-MI-0080-0004 | VR-MI-0080-0005 | VR-MI-0080-0006 | VR-MI-0080-9000
Nyman, Melissa (California) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0080-0001 | VR-MI-0080-0002 | VR-MI-0080-0003 | VR-MI-0080-0004 | VR-MI-0080-0005 | VR-MI-0080-0006 | VR-MI-0080-9000
Turkish, Jason M. (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0080-0001 | VR-MI-0080-0002 | VR-MI-0080-0003 | VR-MI-0080-0004 | VR-MI-0080-0005 | VR-MI-0080-0006 | VR-MI-0080-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Grill, Erik A. (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0080-0004 | VR-MI-0080-0005 | VR-MI-0080-0007 | VR-MI-0080-9000
Meingast, Heather S. (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0080-0004 | VR-MI-0080-0005 | VR-MI-0080-9000
Miller, Jeanmarie (Michigan) show/hide docs
VR-MI-0080-9000

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