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Michigan audit: Minimal 'duplicate,' dead voters in 2020 presidential vote

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Tuesday’s state audit is the latest report to conclude that Michigan’s 2020 elections were free from widespread fraud. (Bridge file photo)

LANSING—More than 99.9 percent of all ballots in Michigan’s 2020 presidential election appear to have been legally cast and properly counted, according to a new review by the state Auditor General’s Office. The audit urges officials to address various “concerns” that would not have changed the outcome. 

Out of 5.5 million Michigan ballots cast in the presidential election, auditors identified 41 potential "duplicate" votes. The Bureau of Elections referred those to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel for further investigation.

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Another 1,616 ballots that were counted appear to have been cast by Michigan residents who were dead on Election Day. But most of those were absentee ballots legally cast by voters who subsequently died and were not removed from the voting rolls by local clerks by Election Day, according to the audit report

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Auditors say 20 voters recorded as casting ballots in 2020 had died before the absentee voting period began. In many cases, however, the deceased shared a common name with another voter, suggesting the anomalies could indicate sloppy record keeping rather than illegal votes.

The state previously reported that clerks had rejected 3,469 other ballots from voters who cast an absentee ballot while alive but died before Election Day.

Overall, Michigan Auditor General Doug Ringler's office said the state's voting roll, known as the Qualified Voter File, and post-election audit procedures were "sufficient" to ensure election integrity, "with exceptions."

Ringler has served as Michigan Auditor General since June 2014, when he was appointed to the position by the state's Republican-led Legislature. 

President Joe Biden won Michigan by 154,188 votes, an official tally certified by local, state and national officials despite former President Donald Trump's unsupported insistence the election was "rigged."

The audit further debunks theories that "dead voters" decided the 2020 election. 

Trump has claimed a "tremendous number of dead people" voted in Michigan, suggesting they cast as many as 18,000 ballots. Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock suggested in December 2020 that in Wayne County alone, more than 2,000 people were "CONFIRMED deceased." On Facebook, she published names and addresses of some people who were very much alive

The state’s Republican-led Senate Oversight Committee spent months investigating the 2020 presidential election and found no evidence of widespread fraud

The 1,647 questionable ballots identified by auditors Friday represent .029 percent of all votes cast in the presidential election. 

Ringler recommended Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office continue to improve processes to decrease the risk of ineligible voters casting ballots. He also questioned whether the state should change procedures to allow county clerks to remove dead people from the qualified voter file instead of forwarding that information for local clerks to process, which could speed up the process to ensure accurate rolls. 

In an official response released with the audit, Benson's office said it agreed with the recommendations, indicating the Department of State already upgraded its computer systems in 2021 and is implementing a new "reconciliation" process to ensure voter rolls are routinely vetted on a defined schedule. 

Benson, in a statement, said the Auditor General's report confirms what her office had already found through its own post-election audits: "Michigan’s 2020 election was secure and the outcome accurately reflects the will of the voters."

"The auditors recognized the tremendous work the Michigan Bureau of Elections and local election officials did to carry out more than 250 successful post-election audits by rating the bureau’s performance perhaps better than ever," Benson said. 

But state Rep. Matt Hall, R-Marshall, said the new report highlights the need to “shore up our laws to make sure dead people are not voting in our elections,” including record-keeping improvements and authorization for county clerks to remove dead voters from rolls.

“Every month, the state is required by law to check the death rolls to make sure people are being removed,” Hall said. “The audit showed that clearly was not being done.”

The auditor general’s office said its review was a long-planned follow-up to a 2019 report. State Rep. Julie Alexander, a Hanover Republican who also requested an auditor review in March 2021, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

All told, the Auditor General’s Office analyzed state Qualified Voter File records for 11.7 million voters across nine different general, primary, regular and special elections between 2019 and 2021. Auditors determined: 

  • 99.1 percent of voter files matched data contained in the Secretary of State's driver's license file
  • 99.9 percent of voters were within "acceptable" age parameters. Auditors identified 13 people who appeared to be under 18 at the time they cast ballots, including nine in the 2020 presidential election. 
  • 0.01 percent of ballots were flagged as possible duplicates. Auditors initially identified 2,283 possible duplicates in the November 2020 election, but after further review, they determined only 41 were potential duplicates and referred those to authorities for investigation into possible fraud.
  • 0.02 percent of votes counted across the eight elections were cast by electors who records later revealed died before Election Day. Of those 2,775 votes that should have been rejected by clerks, 2,734 were from voters who died after legally casting absentee ballots within 40 days of the election. 

The auditor general also reviewed the Department of State's own post-election audit process, which included hand recounts in a record 258 individual precincts, a separate recount in Antrim County and other "risk limiting audits" that compared 18,000 randomly selected paper ballots to tabulator results in more than 1,300 jurisdictions to ensure accuracy. Auditors determined:

  • 99.9 percent of ballots tabulated by voting equipment "agreed with" hand recounts from post-election audits. 
  • 239 out of 247 clerks completed randomly assigned "procedural audits" required by the Secretary of State. Eight completed the reviews but did not submit their results as requested.
  • 21 county clerks did not complete "risk-limiting audits" ordered by the Secretary of State, which “limited the Bureau of Election's ability to determine if the selected risk limit was met.” 

Ringler's office recommended the Bureau of Elections "improve its oversight and reporting of the post election audits assigned to county clerks" to make sure post-election reviews are completed and documented in a timely fashion. 

The Department of State agreed with the recommendation, saying that officials contacted the clerks who had not submitted 2020 audit results in January of 2021. In some cases, often because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state said it had relied on verbal confirmation from clerks that the audits were complete even if they were not properly documented. 

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All told, state and local clerks "conducted a greater number and category of audits than had ever been conducted in the state," Benson's office said in an official audit response. "BOE believes both the post-election audits and the OAG's review demonstrate the integrity of past elections and their results."

But Hall, the Marshall Republican who has pushed election reforms, accused Benson’s office of “misleadingly” reporting that county clerks had completed all assigned audits. Relying on verbal confirmation is “absolutely unacceptable,” he said.

“This is why I supported independent audits through the Auditor General regarding how the 2020 election was run,” Hall said. “It’s important to learn from the past while providing accountability and clarity for the future. I would like to see these types of audits conducted on a compressed timeline prior to certification, so we can have key information in real-time.”

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