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A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals expressed skepticism about the legal standing of Michigan's imperiled Jan. 15 presidential primary at a hearing Thursday afternoon. But the judges also indicated they need more time to decide whether to overturn a lower court decision to block it.

The judges closely questioned lawyers representing Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, the state's chief elections officer, about the justification for restricting access to voter lists generated by the election to the Democratic and Republican parties, a practice the Ingham County Circuit Court found to be unconstitutional.

Lawyers defending the primary law said the Legislature could restrict access if that was deemed necessary to make the election possible and secure the participation of several million voters who would not participate if the two parties used a caucus or convention nominating process.

The appellate trio -- Chief Judge William Whitbeck and Judges Patrick Meter and Donald Owens -- also pressed state lawyers, who had requested a decision by today, for a few more days to consider the case.

Elections officials said they need a decision as soon as possible so that absentee ballots can be ready for distribution 45 days before the election as required by law.

The lawsuit was filed by East Lansing political consultant Mark Grebner and a group of citizens and activists that included former Free Press political columnist Hugh McDiarmid.

After Thursday's hearing, Grebner said the plaintiffs have no objection to the primary, only to the method for handling the voter lists that was devised by party leadership and muscled through the Legislature.

"If some method can be devised which allows the primary to proceed, while rejecting the idea of election records as property of the two major parties, the plaintiffs would be very happy," he said.


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