The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled today that two University of Michigan coeds must reveal on the witness stand their votes in a disputed mayoral election last April.
Lawyers for Susan VanHattum and Diane Lazinsky indicated that an emergency appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court would be filed by the end of the week.
"The basic point is that if this ruling stands, the right to the secrecy of the ballot ould be impaired." said Edward Goldman, Laziasky's American Civil Liberties Union attorney.
"people in the future might not vote because they're afraid that four months later someone might come knocking at their door to ask them how they voted," he said.
The women are two of 20 person who accidentally - and illegally - voted in last spring's contest in which the incumbent Democratic Mayor Albert Wheeler, defeated Louis Belcher, his Republican challenger, by one vote out of more than 20,000 cast.
Due to the use of faulty maps some cite registrars, the 20 voters, who are residents of Ann Arbor township and therefore ineligible to vote in city elections, registered by mistake.
Belcher is suing Wheeler, charging that he is holding the mayor's office illegally.
At a hearing last month, visiting Judge James Kelley ordered the 20 to reveal their votes in order to determine if they could have affected the election's outcome.
The first three witnesses revealed their votes, but then Van Hattum refused, claiming she had a constitutional right to maintain secrecy.
Kelley cited her for contempt and she was handcuffed and kept in custody briefly. Lazinsky later refused to tell her vote, but she was not cited for contempt.
In the four-page decision handed down today, the court ruled that ". . . the 20 persons involved were not qualified to vote. To them the right of secrecy in voting does not extend. Any other rule would permit . . . nonresidents to elect to office a person not elected by resident qualified voters . . ."
I'm disappointed," said VanHattum, a 21-year-old math major who hopes to go to law school. "I'm not sure yet just how far we'll go with it. At least to the Michigan Supreme Court."
Cornelia Landes, who with her husband, Steven, is among the remaining 15 who will face the witness stand if the appeals fail, said she was saddened by the court's ruling, but had not decided what she would do.
"We had not been planning to testify," she said. "At first we were sure that this was a violation of all our rights to a secret ballot, but now that I've talked to some of my friends who are lawyers and law students, I'm not sure anymore."
"I could easily see something like this going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if the clients are willing," the ACLU's Goldman said.
Lazinsky could not be reached for comment, but Van Haddum indicated she might be willing to pursue the case all the way to Washington. "I was scared before, but I'm not now," she said.