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Michigan Election Night: Why candidates leading live results don’t always win

Absentee ballots are expected to comprise 50 percent of all votes during Michigan’s election on Nov. 8. (Shutterstock)
  • Expect delays in election results due to the large volume of absentee ballots cast
  • The apparent winner could change overnight due to continuous counting of absentee ballots
  • Yes, you can mark ballots with a Sharpie and vote if you forgot an ID

LANSING — Planning to follow live election results on Election Day?

Don’t be surprised if a different candidate is leading when you wake up Wednesday morning than when you went to bed Tuesday night. And don’t expect final results until up to 24 hours after polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.


Of Michigan’s 8 million voters, roughly 4 million are expected to vote in the November election, according to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office estimate


As many as 2 million are expected to vote absentee and counting them all will likely delay vote counts, Secretary of State spokesperson Jake Rollow said. 

In the 2020 election, Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to vote absentee. Former President Donald Trump gained an early lead in Michigan and Pennsylvania and appeared to be leading Wednesday morning, but lost to President Joe Biden by 154,000 votes when all votes were counted.

Here are some common questions and answers about the election process, many of which arose amid the fallout from the 2020 election.

Can you vote if your voter registration is inactive? 

Voter registration can be canceled if the voter moved out of state, died, made duplicated registrations or requested for their registration to be canceled.

If you wish to vote when your registration is inactive, you will have to re-register. Michigan offers same-day registration that allows you to register up to 8 p.m. on Election Day. Within 14 days before an election, you must submit your application in person to your local city or township clerk’s office and must provide proof of residency.

Can you vote if you lost your voter ID? 

Yes. Michigan law allows registered voters to vote without an ID if they sign an affidavit attesting to their identity. 

Does voting with a Sharpie spoil a ballot?

Not at all. In fact, that is preferred

In 2020, some Trump supporters filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County, Arizona, election officials and alleged they had trouble scanning ballots filled in with Sharpies. The lawsuit was withdrawn once news outlets reported President Joe Biden had enough electoral votes to become president.

Lansing Clerk Chris Swope told Bridge the city uses Sharpie, but he acknowledged some people are “paranoid” about the markers because they may bleed through to the other side of the ballot. 

But even if they do bleed through, the ballot is designed so that the bled-through area does not overlap with other voting areas. 

Smudging could cause problems for voting tabulators and lead to ballots the machines could not count. But Sharpies are better than ink pens because they are “pretty much instant dry,” Swope said.

"And if you use an ink pen, you've got probably five or ten seconds where it could smudge. Other types of pens, even longer,” Swope said.

Are voting machines connected to the Internet in Michigan?

Voting machines are not connected to the Internet when votes are being tallied

Trump supporters in 2020 falsely claimed some ballot tabulators were connected to the Internet during the count, allowing outsiders to tamper with the results that led to Biden’s victory. 

Some jurisdictions connect the machines to the Internet to send unofficial results to county clerks only after the counting ends and a paper record is generated, according to the Michigan Bureau of Elections.

Is pre-processing absentee ballots the same as counting them? 


Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature recently approved a bill that allows municipal clerks two days of pre-processing for absentee ballots. 

With every absentee ballot comes a numerical stub at the top of the ballot. Voters fill in their ballot, seal it in a secrecy sleeve, place the sleeve into an envelope and turn it in. 

When election officials pre-process an absentee ballot, they open the mail-in envelope, remove the numeric stub and compare it with the number on the envelope to make sure they match. 

Clerks will not open the secrecy sleeve that contains the ballot until they can begin counting absentee ballots on Tuesday. 

Some Michigan towns opted out of pre-processing, arguing that two days of the procedure does not speed up the counting on Election Day.

What can we expect from the results?

Expect delays. 

More than 1.1 million voters have cast their ballots and the number of absentee ballots cast already exceeded the 2018 level, although the Michigan Secretary of State’s office estimates overall turnout may be lower than the 2018 midterm election

If 2020 is an indication, results could change overnight. Republicans are becoming more comfortable voting absentee, but they were more likely to vote in-person in 2020. That meant early live results favored the GOP, but Democrats saw gains as night changed to morning.

Can dead people vote?

Sometimes, voters fill out absentee ballots, then die before Election Day.

Their names are supposed to be removed from voter rolls and their votes are rejected, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Clerks sometimes make the errors of counting them, but that is rare. 

In 2020, of 5.5 million votes cast in the presidential election, auditors identified 1,616 that were absentee ballots cast legally by voters who died before Election Day


Trump supporters have falsely named a wave of dead voters who cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election. But Bridge and other news outlets reported the supposedly dead voters  were very much alive.

The Secretary of State’s website includes multiple ways the agency identifies voters who died. When a voter dies, their death records are transmitted to the Social Security Administration, which then communicates the information to the Secretary of State. Local clerks can also cancel a voter’s registration if they become aware they have died.

Additionally, the state receives alerts from the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center, which helps states improve their voter rolls. A voter’s registration will also be automatically canceled if election officials receive undeliverable mails for two consecutive federal election cycles. 

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