Last week, the Secretary of State announced that absent voter ballot applications will be mailed to all Michigan voters for the August 4 Primary and November 3 General Elections. This is in response to the current health crisis and social distancing guidelines, as voting from home will be much safer than voting in the precinct on Election Day.
The President of the United States has declared that voting by mail is voter fraud and even threatened to withhold funding from our state as a result of the Secretary of State’s announcement. He has since backed away from the threat of withholding federal funding but the damage of claiming “voter fraud” has been done and he continues to add to the degradation of public confidence in our nation’s election system and election officials.
Now we are starting to see pictures on social media of homes that are receiving absent voter ballot applications for individuals who have not lived at the residence in years. As a result, members of the public are concerned that this may be the “Voter Fraud” that the President mentioned in his conspiracy theories.
Please rest assured, this is likely a simple voter list maintenance issue. The Secretary of State sent (or is sending) applications for absent voter ballots to all registered voters in Michigan, regardless of the status of their registration in the voter file. A person might get an old voter’s application mailed to their home because the clerk has not been able to cancel that old voter’s registration yet. A simple example of this is when an old voter moves but does not update their registration, and election mail sent to their old address is undeliverable. Clerks are not able to immediately cancel the registration if they cannot contact the voter, and must keep the voter on the rolls under a challenged status for a number of years.
If those voters complete the application and request a ballot, their local clerk will contact them for additional information (proof of residency, photo identification, etc.) before issuing a ballot, as voting twice in one election is prohibited under law. Even if someone did decide to try to apply for a ballot fraudulently, which is very rare, your local clerk has a number of tools at their disposal to ensure that it is actually the voter who is voting, the most effective method being signature comparison.
Another falsehood we hear all the time is that dead people are voting. This is not true, either. County Clerks, who are the keepers of death records in Michigan, are required by state statute to regularly send lists of individuals who have passed away in their county to local clerks for them to take the voter off the voter rolls.
In the past few years, great strides in list maintenance have been made in Michigan. For instance, the passage of Proposal 3 in 2018 allowed for automatic voter registration, which means that any time a Michigan resident applies for or renews a Michigan driver’s license or personal ID card, it registers them to vote at that address unless they are ineligible or opt out.
In 2019, Michigan joined the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to securely communicate voter registration information with other member states. ERIC flags deceased voters, voters who move, duplicate voter registrations, and eligible voters not yet registered, even across state lines, to allow for a more accurate voter file. If someone moved away before Michigan joined ERIC, there is a chance that was never communicated with the election official where they were previously registered.
Please do not worry, just because conspiracy theorists are pointing to this issue as evidence that there is fraud, evidence shows that it is Michigan voter files that need maintenance.
How can you improve the voter file? Simply make sure that your own registration is up to date and if you do move out of state, make sure that information is communicated with your former and future election officials. If you do receive mail for another voter, please be sure to return to sender, as that will assist clerks in voter file maintenance.
Please join in pushing back on election misinformation!