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Election Administration Basics

Understanding how elections are administered in Michigan is crucial for voters to be able to reject the increasing amount of misinformation in circulation intended to confuse them and sow mistrust in election results. Our elections are secure, accurate and fair. Thousands of dedicated clerks, staff and poll workers ensure this fact every election.

Decentralized elections - Michigan's elections are decentralized, meaning that they are carried out by local Republican, Democrat and nonpartisan election clerks in the state's 1,520 cities and townships. This bolsters election security by making it difficult for hackers to attack the decentralized system, and for statewide fraud to occur without coordination among hundreds of sworn, locally elected officials.
Strong and secure voter registration - Michigan has one of the best voter registration rates in the country, thanks in large part to its pioneering work registering voters when they conduct vehicle and ID transactions at Secretary of State offices (now a national best practice). Additionally, in 2018, Michigan voters enshrined the right to automatic voter registration in our state constitution. Now, unless they opt out, all eligible citizens are registered to vote when conducting many transactions with the Secretary of State. The process also helps maintain the voter registration list by checking to confirm eligibility of all registered voters when they do business with the Secretary of State.
Voting from home / Absentee voting - All registered voters in Michigan have the right to vote using an absentee ballot. Voters may complete an application for an absentee ballot with their local clerk online at or submit a printed and signed request to their clerk by email, mail or in person.
Voters can vote by absentee ballot through the mail, without leaving their home. They can also go to their city or township clerk's office or drop box to return their absentee ballot, which is recommended when returning a ballot within two weeks of Election Day in order to avoid possible postal delays.
Absentee voting is a time-tested secure system in Michigan. Clerks check signatures on both absentee ballot requests and ballot envelopes against the signatures they have on file to verify the identity of every voter.

Pre-processing absentee ballots - Many other states allow clerks to pre-process, and in some cases count, absentee ballots before Election Day in order to ensure timely unofficial results on election night and prevent misinformation and conspiracy theories from undermining voters' faith in elections. The recommended best practice is to allow seven days for pre-processing before Election Day. Michigan's state Legislature allowed ten hours prior to the November 2020 general election, and currently provides clerks no time for pre-processing.


All paper ballots - Because Michigan uses all paper ballots and prints paper tallies of the counts, there is always a physical record of all votes. Additionally, the physical record ensures reporting errors are caught and corrected before or at the county canvass. This paper trail provides Michigan with yet another layer of security.

Election workers - Michigan has 83 counties, 280 cities, and 1,240 townships. During an election, each of these units of government requires a staff of paid workers to assist voters and help process ballots. Election workers, precinct inspectors and election inspectors are people who are paid to assist voters and count ballots on Election Day. Their participation is crucial to the election process and they are witnesses to its integrity.

Election challengers - Election challengers may be appointed by political parties and qualified interest groups to observe the election process. To maintain the security of the election and voter privacy, challengers are prohibited from using a video camera or recording device inside the polling place or clerk's office. Personal smart phones, tablets, laptops or other electronic devices are also prohibited in the absent voter counting board. Furthermore, challengers may not handle or touch the pollbook or e-pollbook or election materials and may not approach and question voters. A challenger cannot challenge a voter's right to vote unless the challenger has "good reason to believe" that the voter is not eligible to vote in the precinct.

E-pollbooks -The electronic pollbook is a downloaded list from the Qualified Voter File of all the registered voters in a given precinct that is loaded onto a laptop prior to each election. This allows election inspectors to look up a voter's registration record, confirm they are in the correct polling place and assign a ballot to that voter. Once a ballot has been issued to a voter, the e-pollbook record will reflect that fact, preventing double voting. Additionally, the e-pollbook will alert the election inspector if a voter appearing to vote in the polls has already cast an absentee ballot, which also prevents double voting.

Absentee ballot counting begins - In Michigan, the counting of absentee ballots cannot begin until the polls open at 7 a.m. on Election Day. See pre-processing absentee ballots, above, for more information.


Timing of results - Voters can return absentee ballots to their clerk's office and drop boxes until 8 p.m. on Election Day. If there is a line, voters in line by 8 p.m. are allowed to cast their ballots as well. Because absentee ballots must be collected, security checked, and brought to the counting location, when large numbers of voters vote absentee, completion of the counting process can take many hours, if not days, after the close of polls.

Reporting errors
- Because Michigan uses all paper ballots, and tabulation machines print the vote counts, there is always a paper record that can be reviewed if a reporting error occurs. When 1,520 jurisdictions are reporting results from several thousand precincts, it is not uncommon for isolated reporting errors to occur, when election workers record or transmit unofficial numbers incorrectly. However, the bipartisan county boards of canvassers compare the physical tabulation records to the unofficial results and correct any errors before certifying the election making results official.

Recounts - Michigan law provides a mechanism for counting ballots again in certain circumstances:


A recount of all precincts in the state is automatically conducted if the difference between the number of votes received by a candidate nominated or elected to a statewide office and the number of votes received by the second-place candidate is 2,000 votes or less. The provision does not extend to the office of State Board of Education, University of Michigan Regent, Michigan State University Trustee or Wayne State University Governor. A recount of all precincts in the state is similarly conducted if the difference between the "Yes" vote and the "No" vote cast on a statewide ballot proposal is 2,000 votes or less.

By petition

A candidate for a federal, state, county, city, township, village, or school office who believes that the canvass of the votes cast on the office is incorrect because of fraud or error in the precinct returns may petition for a recount of the votes cast in the precincts involved. Candidates seeking a precinct delegate position do not have the right to petition for a recount. In addition, a registered elector who voted at an election at which a question appeared on the ballot, who believes that the canvass of the votes cast on the question is incorrect because of fraud or error in the precinct returns may petition for a recount of the votes cast in the precincts involved.

Audits - Michigan has conducted several types of post-election audits. They include procedural audits, which thoroughly review procedures performed before, during, and after the conduct of an election, risk-limiting audits, which draw and hand-tally a random sample of ballots to affirm the accuracy of vote-counting machines, and absentee counting board audits, which review the specific processes for tabulating absentee ballots. Post-election audits are important for the transparency of elections, and for clerks to review past practices and identify opportunities for future improvement.

Canvass - A bipartisan county or state board canvasses primaries and elections by carefully reviewing and authenticating various forms and certificates completed to document the vote cast at the polls. This is done by county boards before certification of results.

Certification - A bipartisan county or state board certifies a primary by declaring the final vote totals obtained at the primary, the names of the nominees for the offices involved and the outcome of any questions on the ballot. A board certifies an election by declaring the final vote totals obtained at the election, the names of the candidates elected to the offices involved and the outcome of any questions on the ballot.