Lawsuit: Jocelyn Benson allowing ‘suspiciously high’ voter registration rates

A spokesperson for Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says a lawsuit challenging voter registration rolls in 16 Michigan counties a publicity stunt that relies on outdated information. (Bridge file photo)

A conservative activist on Tuesday sued Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and 16 local clerks in federal court on claims they failed to accurately maintain the state’s voter rolls.

Tony Daunt, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, alleges in the suit that Leelanau County has more registered voters than adult citizens and that another 15 counties have voter registration rates over 90 percent of eligible voters, which Daunt calls “suspiciously high rates” of registration. 

The findings indicate that voter rolls are inaccurate and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and other elections officials “are failing to make a reasonable effort” to keep the list up-to-date in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act, the suit contends. It seeks a preliminary injunction requiring the state to fix the alleged problem before the 2020 general election in November. 

“Daunt reasonably fears that ineligible voters can and do vote in Michigan elections,” he wrote in the complaint. 

“Those votes will dilute his legitimate vote. And Michigan’s inaccurate rolls undermine Daunt’s confidence in the integrity of Michigan elections, which also burdens his right to vote.”

Jake Rollow, spokesperson for the Department of State, told Bridge via email that it’s an attention-seeking suit “using debunked claims and bad statistics to delegitimize our elections.”

“It compares old Census data and registration numbers that make no attempt to distinguish between active and inactive registration, and asserts the false notion that voter registration rates should be low,” Rollow said, adding the state’s goal is 100 percent voter registration “as higher registration is a sign of a more robust and representative democracy.”

Michigan voters are automatically registered to vote when they apply for or update their driver’s licenses or ID cards unless they are ineligible or indicate they’d prefer not to be registered. More than 7.7 million Michiganders are registered to vote: 77 percent of Michigan’s population (including those under the age of 18). 

Rollow said there is a “federally mandated delay” before some registrations are canceled and “has never been credibly linked to illegal voting on any substantial scale.”

Michigan Freedom Fund Senior Adviser Angela Meyer praised Daunt’s lawsuit in a statement Tuesday, writing that “Benson’s disregard for the law threatens the integrity of local, state and national elections.”

Concerns about voter fraud have gained renewed attention in Michigan since Benson announced in May the department plans to send absentee voter applications to all registered voters in the state’s August and November elections to make voting more accessible during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, as they did in the May elections. 

Conservative leaders and groups — including from the highest office in the land — have argued this could invite fraud. 

President Donald Trump falsely tweeted that Benson will send absentee ballots to Michigan voters ahead of the elections. “This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!” he wrote, threatening to withhold funding for the state. He later deleted the tweet and issued a new one referencing applications.

While absentee voting can open up more possibilities for fraud, there is no evidence that widespread voter fraud due to absentee voting occurs. Experts have also found that increased access to voting by mail does not substantially favor either political party. 

Michigan elections officials check the signature on ballots against the signature on applications for an absentee ballot to ensure accuracy on election day. If the signatures don’t match — or the name or date of birth is wrong — the discrepancies are investigated and could invalidate the vote.

Benson told a congressional committee last week that there is not significant evidence of voter fraud in the state, but “in the rare times it does occur, we catch it and we prosecute it.”

Turnout for the May election was twice as high as in previous years, Benson told a state Senate committee Tuesday. 

Ninety-nine percent of voters in that election cast their ballots by mail or in a dropbox “and there were zero reports of fraud or illness related to the election,” she said.

 

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Comments

Anna
Tue, 06/09/2020 - 9:16pm

It's a truism in both problem solving and auditing that "an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." For a variety of reasons, including both the cost and the embarassment due to problems making large swathes of precincts un-recountable in several cities and counties, Michigan's courts did not give Jill Stein the recount / audit of voting that she asked for and was entitled to in 2016. Until every county does random audits of a segment of their precincts after each election and voter rolls are routinely updated at least annually, I am not willing to simply "take their word for it" that voter fraud is extremely rare when voting is done by mail.

Robert Honeyman
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:51am

You don't have to "take their word for it" that voter fraud is rare when done by mail. The topic has been studied many times by qualified academics. The overwhelming conclusion is that fraud is rare. And what's oddest about GOP sword rattling over the issue is that the most egregious recent case of fraud was committed by a GOP candidate.

You can chase the details on overall risk at https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/494189-lets-put-the-vote-by-mail-fr... and at https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/mail-in-ballot-voter-fraud/. NC case at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/02/21/federal-election-will....

Is our election system 100% secure? Nope. Getting there would result in large-scale disenfranchisement, since the price of absolute security is elimination of anything that isn't black or white (some might just say white). Should the system be improved? Absolutely. But the requisite improvements are about investment, equipment, and digital security.

Attempts to defraud in a manner similar to the NC Congressional primary have a very high chance of discovery; politicians and academics pore over results, comparing them to recent polls and to exit polls. Anomalies are hard to hide and beg investigation. It's likely, of course, that many anomalies are just statistical aberrations while many are indeed suggestions of fraud. It's also possible that even where there's fraud, only the occasional attempt gets proven.

But that's not the kind of fraud the right seems to be suggesting (ignoring that the right is no less likely to commit scaled fraud, as NC demonstrates); rather, the message I'm hearing is about one-off fraud, of voting twice or voting a recently deceased's ballot. Those things happen, but the risk-reward is so overwhelmingly skewed that its occurrence is in the range of the likelihood of getting struck by lightning. Rare. Insignificant. Heavily prosecuted when caught, whether the violation was intentional or unknowing (I'm thinking of a case in Texas (?) where an Hispanic woman didn't realize she was not allowed to vote even though her local voting officials had registered her, and was sentenced to years in prison).

IOW, the problem is too small to even justify the time I've taken to write this. :)

Karen Dunnam
Tue, 06/09/2020 - 10:04pm

Thinking about this for a minute: the population/voter numbers will never zero out.
Our previous census was ten years ago. Several popular jurisdictions (such as Leelanau county, or Grand Rapids) will have had an influx of voting-age adults. Students turning 18, seniors moving away or dying will further affect the numbers.
2020 is a census year; poor timing for a lawsuit that tries to challenge data and statistics.

Rick
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:33am

Ah, facts and reality. In Republican circles those are not allowed to stop speculation, misinformation.
Sad and astonishing that a political party wants to stop and block people from voting, to make voting hard and time consuming, make voting biased toward one party (the GOP).
It's almost like they know they can't win an honest election where people can vote conveniently and easily.

Maureen Martin
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 8:25am

I’m starting to lose faith in Bridge’s reporting. The headline and opening paragraphs give way too much Cred to a spurious lawsuit. Try harder. Like maybe a headline that says : here’s his biting rolls work when people move away. Here’s why voting take time to adjust to change. Here’s why voting rolls are not a measure of active voters, and here’s how they don’t need to be. Or: here’s why fraud is not problem?

If you can’t get your hyperbole under control, you will be losing my support.

Karen Dunnam
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 1:51pm

We commenters did a stellar job of discounting the previous voter fraud article (Afendoulis' performance piece about voting by mail). I'm okay with Bridge getting a little clickbaity with the readership; boost memberships, make new friends.
(memo to self: can't buy entertainment like this anywhere else, send Bridge some more money)

CM
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 8:30am

Already received my application via USPS ... so anyone could have stolen the application and applied for my absentee ballot. There is no check and balance system to know that I'm the one applying for the absentee ballot. How many people are receiving absentee voter applications that shouldn't? If it's one, that's one too many.

How much is the mailing of the applications costing us the tax payers? Last I checked the state was running a deficit.

Pete
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:09am

They literally explained how this wouldn't work if you took time to read the article. A fraudster would have to take your application, forge your signature, have the ballot sent to a different address than what you have registered...FFS use some critical thinking skills.

Mary
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:12am

Your signature is on file with your local clerk. The hypothetical thief would have to forge your signature. Highly unlikely it would match.

Paul Jordan
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:17am

Of course there are checks! Your signature on the absentee ballot application is checked against the signature card for your voter registration, and if there is no registration card or the signature doesn't match there is no ballot sent. The verification process is, in other words, actually more detailed than when you vote in person (because the voter roll doesn't contain a signature sample for comparison).

Voters should ask themselves why Republicans want to discourage voting. Could they be afraid of voters' power? Could they be afraid of the People?

If they are afraid of us, maybe we should be similarly afraid of them.

Dvora
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 10:06am

There is a check. The signature on the ballot is compared with the signature on file with the city clerk.

Freedom
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 11:43am

"There is a check. The signature on the ballot is compared with the signature on file with the city clerk." And how do you know that the "check" is being done? Or ignored when it doesn't match if it furthers the political advantage of the one doing the checking? Way too much room for error and fraud!

David
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 1:20pm

As others have noted, there is a rigorous check and balance system, including a signature check. Why would you make this accusation without bothering to find out the facts?

Dee
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 8:52pm

Wrong, wrong, wrong. When the city clerks are inundated with “applications “ then “ballots “ there is NO possible way they can check each signature and verify that they match. I work the polls and receiving board and have previously worked the absentee ballot segment and I regret to inform you that voter fraud can and does happen with regularity.

middle of the mit
Thu, 06/11/2020 - 10:49pm

How is it that it takes more time for a clerk to compare signatures than it does for a clerk to check ID.s?

I didn't see large lines in my Norther MI community until your ID law was passed. Imagine what it must be like in a city...............

Double ID checks, no one uses what credit card companies do, signatures verified by a check out cashier that is paid less than $12/hr and no benefits. Soo much fraud!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GBAsFwPglw

Hire more people or get more volunteers?

Never occurred to anyone!

Oh virus?

Signature verification would be easier wouldn't it? And safer?

Ryan
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 8:50am

First, I don’t believe for a second that out-of-date voter rolls are leading to significant levels of fraud or error. However, reading the following section in this article, I get the sense there's more detail to explain: *** "Michigan elections officials check the signature on ballots against the signature on applications for an absentee ballot to ensure accuracy on election day. If the signatures don’t match — or the name or date of birth is wrong — the discrepancies are investigated and could invalidate the vote." *** That system does not seem built to stop fraud. If someone is deliberately setting out to vote fraudulently, the only way they can get an AV ballot is to fill out an AV application. I’m sorry to enter conspiracy theory territory here, but for the sake of arguing, let’s say someone gets their hands on an AV application sent to a deceased person or someone who is also voting in Indiana or whatever: the wrong person gets the application, cackles maniacally, and simply signs the form, mails it in, receives that other person’s ballot, signs it the same way. I really don’t see this happening, but it seems to illustrate that the “check” of comparing signatures does not safeguard anything (ie: the person requesting the ballot gets to provide the fraudulent signature used to verify the ballot). Which is why I suspect there’s either a detail missing above or some other step that explains this more clearly. Thanks for diving into this issue, Riley Beggin and Bridge.

Mary
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:19am

Signatures on apps are also checked against signatures on file in the clerk's office. We need to do a better job of educating the public about the election process.

Robert Honeyman
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 11:30am

All very well and good. Now consider scale. What you've described would be difficult or nearly impossible for a single entity dedicated to casting fraudulent ballots in any significant quantity. And certainly, any such attempt would run into folks contacting their local clerk's office to complain about not receiving their ballot. The end result would be an investigation that would uncover the sort of attempt you might be suggesting. IOW, large scale fraudulence is not difficult to discover, and individual fraudulence is trivially small.

Mark Grebner
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 8:51am

I'm willing to meet the Republicans halfway, in their crusade against vote-by-mail. We can ALL agree that Republicans shouldn't vote by mail.

I suppose the Republicans would like to go further, and say that Democrats and independents should suffer for the Republicans' beliefs, but on that point, I guess we'll have to disagree. But if Republicans would stop voting by mail, the problem will be largely solved.

Lennie
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:23am

It would be far more productive to have none of the clowns we vote for or against be able to pander their way into office but that would wipe most the democrats off the ballot.

Jerome Miller
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 8:59am

I think our current state officials have accurately accessed our ballot situation and that it now reflects a fair and accurate opportunity for all Michigan citizens that want to vote, to vote. I Definitely agree with the absentee ballot issuance.

George Hagenauer
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:05am

In addition to the difference between the census and current voter registration data, it is possible for an area to have both high voter registration and high turnout. For 25 years I staffed the polls in a rural town (here it would be a township) in Wisconsin. We had a high registration level probably over 90% and there were key elections in which 94% of the voters voted. This sounds to me like another attempt to win elections by keeping people from voting- which is the most unAmerican of activities.

Pete
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:05am

"While absentee voting can open up more possibilities for fraud, there is no evidence that widespread voter fraud due to absentee voting occurs. Experts have also found that increased access to voting by mail does not substantially favor either political party. "

This quote is all that really should be said in any of these false accusations that somehow more people voting is a bad thing.

Jcb
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:08am

We received five voter applications at our address. Two for people who live here and three for people who do not. While we returned the three others, we suspect that there is a real opportunity for fraud and that it wouldnt be hard.

Lags
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:08am

2016 election I voted late in the day machine would not accept ballots but I insisted on trying and it took my ballot and showed a number there was a box underneath they were putting ballots in did they get counted?

Paul Jordan
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:21am

Republicans don't want people to vote (unless, of course, they are Republicans!)

If they are afraid of our votes, are they afraid of US? Why? Are they afraid that they would--as President Trump publicly said--they couldn't win elections?

They love power more than they love democracy, and anyone who who loves power that much should never be allowed to hold it.

zooman
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:23am

Tony Daunt is the same person who filed a baseless lawsuit to keep Proposal 2 off the ballot in 2018. Proposal 2 took the job of drawing lines away from the legislature (something that the drafters of our present Constitution did in 1963). Tony Daunt filed a federal court lawsuit challenging Proposal 2 after it was overwhelmingly approved by the voters. This lawsuit has been dismissed emphatically by the federal district court for West Michigan and by a unanimous decision in the federal court of appeals. Now he has filed this lawsuit, which is nothing more than a distraction and yet another attempt to sow disinformation and confusion. It seems only fair to ask where the money for all this is coming from.

Jim Wittebols
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 9:24am

More distraction from the "I believe it so that makes it true" crowd.

Matt J.
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 10:27am

Unfortunately, this article engages in "false equivalency," the practice of much mainstream journalism to present two sides of an issue with equal legitimacy. The phrasing, "Concerns about voter fraud have gained renewed attention in Michigan..." suggests that"concerns" about voter fraud are authentic. The evidence reveals, however, that such "concerns" are ideologically driven and not rooted in reality. When study after study has shown that voter fraud borders on non-existent, when the respected experts agree that voter fraud is not a legitimate concern, then the presentation that it *is* a legitimate concern is misleading at best and disingenuous at worst. This false equivalency - the suggestion that the "concern" about voter fraud is authentic - thus legitimates an illegitimate position, helps fuel a debate that shouldn't even really be a debate at all, and unwittingly compromises the democratic process.

Tom Backus
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 10:33am

This is a sham. We have reasonable registration and process. We always have. Dead people aren't voting, Mickey Mouse isn't voting, the conservatives can't win over the hearts and minds of a majority of voters so they pull stunts like this and other means of suppression. It would make sense that when a citizen turns 18 they are automatically registered to vote and then they can chose to vote or not vote as they please.

Freedom
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 11:53am

Tom wrote: "This is a sham. We have reasonable registration and process. We always have." Well we used to have. Until the left gave illegal aliens the right to vote. Eliminated basic ID checking to have a FAIR and ACCURATE election. They even want to eliminate the Electoral College now so as to stack the deck in their favor. No dirty trick is taboo in their quest for absolute power.

Charles Carpenter
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 10:43am

Come on Bridge. Don't do a CNN on us. You don't have to present both sides of an issue if one has no facts behind it. It's your job to research the facts, not splash a headline. That's why we make donations.

Todd
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 10:58am

Liberals are infamous for trying to cheat at elections.

Tom Backus
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 2:11pm

Fake news. The truth is the Republican tactics of voter suppression is much more common and prevalent. The biggest case in recent history I believe was Republicans in Virginia getting caught cheating. They had to do the whole thing over again. By the way, liberal means: 1. open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values. 2. (of education) concerned mainly with broadening a person's general knowledge and experience, rather than with technical or professional training. 3. (especially of an interpretation of a law) broadly construed or understood; not strictly literal or exact. 4. given, used, or occurring in generous amounts.
Instead of labels like "liberal" or "conservative"or tribalism like "Democrats" and Republicans" why not just let all Americans vote.

Freedom
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 8:06pm

Tom You claim Republican tactics of "voter suppression" are common and prevalent. You mean not letting illegal aliens vote? Or requiring a valid ID? How about requiring the voter to be living? Or vote only once? Democrats have long encouraged their members to vote early and often. Suppression indeed!

Kris
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 11:05am

This is what happens, people move and counties do not take person or persons off of said address where they moved from. All that info goes through the register of deeds. We are finding that out going through who is registered to vote in our township. People move or have died and not being taken off the "list".
Found out there is someone registered to vote at my address that has never lived there. Getting it taken off.
So that leaves room for voter fraud

bill
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 11:42am

In the past they tried to authenticate voters in Detroit. They quit when the Number of votes exceeded the number of adults in the area. Crooked?? Seems like plenty of opportunity to harvest enough votes to effect the totals.

Arjay
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 12:11pm

You want faith in the election process, have voter identification. Everyone seems to want it on their smartphone, why not their ballot. Surely, who runs the country is as important as my personal bank account, perhaps even more so. The SOS office already has pictures stored for license and ID cards.

Oh, and do away with vote harvesting.

Susan Lackey
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 2:28pm

Not so upset by the headline as the article. The use of the phrase 'findings' implies a level of rigor that doesn't seem to exist on either Daunt's suit or the article. It's also unclear why the reporter says that AV voting opens up more opportunities for b fraud than other forms. I don't expect these shortcuts from Bridge.

Avrey P
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 4:46pm

For anyone incorrectly saying that "absentee voter fraud is rare, and there is no evidence it could change an election," Trump won Michigan by only 10,000 votes, and a SouthField city clerk named Sherikia Hawkins was already charged with 6 felonies for altering 200 ballots in the 2018 election. All it would take is literally a handful of people to completely change the election. If she did it, clearly people in less populated counties could easily do it too.

Diana
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 5:11pm

We know J Benson has been accepting money from George Soros at least since 2010 when she first tried to run as SOS.

Voting is a right of evey adult citizen in this country. The process is to go down to your polling place every few years and cast your ballot for people or issuesthat are important to you and your family. Remember it's a process where you are involved and how you vote can change people's lives. So why not get off your butt evey few years and cast your ballot in person among your community? Direct participation places a higher value to the process. If you're ill, out of town, or going to the polls is physically impossible than absentee voting is available. Casting your vote is part of the experience. Those who want to only vote by mail, I would have to ask, why do you by spent money to go to a live performance to hear a rock band, see a live theater performance or go to a Tigers, Pistons, Lions or Redwings game when it's cheager and easier to watch it on TC or computer. I assume you want the experience.
Sadly mode technology has devalued many of things w do in life and I would hate to see voting become one of them.
My point is voting is an experience that every eligible citizen should take seriously for its outcome effects how you and your family live. There are still many countries that do not allow voting or have voting for that is manipulated by those in power. There is no utopian society. Voting is not only a right but a privilege.

Mary
Wed, 06/10/2020 - 5:36pm

The purpose of this lawsuit is to sew seeds of distrust in the voter's mind about the reliability of the election process. It is being done by Republicans all across the country.

middle of the mit
Thu, 06/11/2020 - 1:22am

Hey conservatives who think voter fraud is real. Why do you actively suppress the vote? You don't?

Let me show you how one of your own phrased it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Weyrich

He co-founded the conservative think tanks The Heritage Foundation,[5] the Free Congress Foundation, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GBAsFwPglw

In his own words for you to see and listen to.

While I am here, I may as well drop this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-nEHkgm_Gk
Voting by Mail: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

https://politicalwire.com/?s=mail+in+voting

I would also like to not hear anymore karens coming on here telling us that it is Governor Gretchen making you vote in person during a pandemic. Do you think you can hold those two conflicting beliefs in your mind without wondering which one is true? Sure ya can! Just don't question the source you get your "facts" from.

Look what has happened in Georgia, Wisconsin and every conservative run State.

Wouldn't want you to ask yourself questions.

That is anathema.

Cathy
Thu, 06/11/2020 - 9:21am

Look no further than Georgia's debacle this week of clear voter suppression. Then examine 2018 elections and see further voter suppression. Efforts range from the seemingly unobstructive, like voter ID laws and cuts to early voting, to mass purges of voter rolls and systemic disenfranchisement. And long before election cycles even begin, legislators can redraw district lines that determine the weight of your vote. Michigan had the worst gerrymandering and Republican's are responsible and now are desperate to continue.

Sovereign Mary
Thu, 06/11/2020 - 2:28pm

Thank you, Tony Daunt, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund for bringing your lawsuit.

Cheryl King-Halbert
Fri, 06/12/2020 - 2:50pm

Her comments are laughable!!! Defending this fraudulent and illegal mailing of Voter Applications is BS!! The legal way for anyone to receive a absentee ballot application comes from YOUR COUNTY CLERKS OFFICE!! Stop lying to the people of this State!