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Fact Checks

  • Michigan citizens continue to be subjected to lies and misinformation about the state’s elections, as elected officials, candidates and others continue to profit politically and financially by spreading the falsehoods. By doing so they endanger American democracy, and the factual information on this page is provided so that all Michiganders have access to the truth. 

  •  2020 was the first year that all Michigan voters had the right to vote absentee – following a voter-approved constitutional amendment passed in 2018 – and the height of the coronavirus pandemic. To ensure all voters knew they had the right to vote conveniently and safely by mail, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson directed the Michigan Bureau of Elections to mail absentee ballot request forms and instructions to every registered voter. Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State in many other states did the same, and in subsequent lawsuits, multiple judges ruled that this was within Secretary Benson’s authority.

    The request forms had been available on the MDOS website for many years and were frequently mailed to voters by both political parties, candidate campaigns and numerous nonpartisan organizations.

    The Bureau of Elections mailed applications to vote absentee to all Michiganders registered to vote who were not already going to receive one from their county, city or township clerk. Some clerks had already decided to mail applications to their voters, and some voters had already placed themselves on permanent absentee lists, which ensures they are mailed an application ahead of every election. 

    The bureau’s mailing went to both active and inactive registered voters. By mailing the application to inactive voters, the state guaranteed equal access to voters who may have simply chosen not to vote in recent elections. It also advanced maintenance of the voter registration list as this was the first statewide mailing in a decade. Election officials used every application that was returned undeliverable by the postal service to start the process of cancelling the corresponding voter registration. Under federal law, if the voter takes no action such registrations can be cancelled after two federal election cycles.  

    Absentee ballots and applications are rejected if they do not bear a signature that matches the signature on the voter’s file. 

     

  • Absentee ballot drop boxes provide a convenient and secure way for voters to return their absentee ballots to their local clerk, and township and city election clerks have accepted absentee ballots in drop boxes for many years. The state Legislature codified the practice in 2020 by passing legislation with bipartisan support to ensure drop box security. That was the first statewide election cycle in which all Michigan voters had the right to vote absentee – following a 2018 voter-approved constitutional amendment. Also in 2020 all Michigan clerks had access to federal funds to use for drop boxes.  

    All videos suggesting drop boxes were used to commit election fraud in Michigan have been debunked for lack of evidence and understanding of Michigan election law. For example:

    • In a video where a person is shown possibly bringing and signing more than one ballot to a drop box, they can legally be returning ballots for voters who are family members or members of their household, or voters who have a disability or otherwise need assistance. If so, the signature of the person bringing the ballot is required in addition to the signature of the voter. Further, all absentee ballot envelopes are checked to ensure the signature of the voter matches their signature the clerk has on file with their voter registration.

    • In a video where a person is shown possibly transporting blank absentee ballots, they can be delivering them to satellite clerk offices for voters to use, or to an absentee counting board to duplicate military ballots that come in from overseas and need to be put on different paper to go through a tabulator.

    Where a U.S. Postal Service employee is shown possibly putting absentee ballot applications or ballots into a drop box, this is a normal and legal activity, as USPS workers are required to expedite the return of election mail either by delivery to the clerk’s office or drop box. 

     

     

  • Absentee voting has been available to some Michigan voters for many years, and clerks are required by law to verify that the signature on an absentee application and ballot envelope agrees sufficiently with the signature on file before accepting it. In past years, township and city clerks would sometimes ask the Bureau of Elections how to determine if a signature “agrees sufficiently.” The Bureau would inform clerks that it was the clerk’s decision, but – consistent with the Bureau’s own practice in reviewing signatures on signature petitions – signature review should begin with the presumption that the signature is the voter’s valid signature, and should be rejected if it differs in clear and obvious respects.

    After voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 to extend the right to vote absentee to all voters, the Bureau received many more questions about how to review signatures, and issued this same guidance in writing to all clerks so that voter signatures would be reviewed uniformly across the state. Using this guidance in 2020, just as they had in previous elections clerks rejected a small percentage of absent voter applications and ballot envelopes statewide on the grounds that the signatures did not agree sufficiently. There is not a single documented case of a clerk determining that a nonmatching signature “agreed sufficiently” because the clerk began the review with the presumption that the signature was valid and rejected it if it differed in clear and obvious respects.

    After the 2020 election, a court ruled that in order for the instructions to be binding on clerks, the Bureau should issue them as a rule through Administrative Procedures Act, which the Bureau is now in the process of doing. The court did not find that the content of the instructions violated the election law, and clerks continue to refer to the guidance voluntarily – accepting signatures that agree sufficiently and rejecting signatures that do not agree sufficiently – beginning with the presumption that signatures are valid and rejecting them if they differ in clear and obvious respects.

    Some have sought to mislead the public about these instructions and the way clerks review signatures to create the false impression that clerks do not ensure that signatures match, or that clerks have been instructed to process absent voter ballot applications or envelopes without reviewing signatures. Such individuals have shared the deceptive claim that clerks were ordered to “presume signatures are valid,” leaving out the important detail that signature review merely begins with a presumption of validity and results in rejection if signatures differ. Some have also misleadingly suggested that the court’s determination that this guidance should be issued as a formal rule in order to be binding on clerks means that the guidance itself does not provide for a legal means of reviewing signatures, when that is not what the court said.

    Before accepting an absent voter ballot application or ballot, clerks determine if the signature agrees sufficiently with the signature on file and reject signatures that do not match. They have always done that, and have never been instructed otherwise. 

     

     
  • State and local election officials conducted more than 250 post-election audits of Michigan’s 2020 general election, all of which demonstrated the integrity and accuracy of the election. A report with more detailed information is available here.

  • Absentee ballots take more time to security check, process and count than ballots cast in person at polling places. To ensure timely results, many states allow clerks days or weeks to process absentee ballots prior to Election Day. Florida gives its clerks a month.

    The Michigan Legislature voted to give some Michigan clerks 10 hours to do limited preprocessing of absentee ballots before the 2020 presidential election. Currently the Legislature does not provide clerks any time for preprocessing.

    Because of this, and the widespread use of absentee ballots, it was announced prior to the 2020 general election that complete results would not be available on election night. To expedite the process as much as possible, clerks worked around the clock, bolstered by Department of State supports including the recruitment of more than 30,000 election workers and provision of federal funds for automatic envelope openers and more ballot tabulation machines.

    Many smaller jurisdictions with fewer voters began reporting all their results first on election night, as they had fewer ballots to count and may have been able to count absentee ballots at their polling places. However, many larger jurisdictions first reported only the results of in-person voting at polling places, as they continued to count absentee ballots at separate locations – absent voter counting boards – specifically for absentee ballots. When they did report their absentee ballot results in large batches (as is always done), some members of the public wrongly assumed that they had counted all those ballots in a short amount of time, when in fact they had been counting since Election Day morning.

    Further, because President Trump had encouraged his voters to vote in person at polling places, early returns that did not include many absentee ballots showed him in the lead, and that lead diminished and was overcome as absentee ballots, which favored President-elect Biden, were counted and reported.

    Michigan law requires ballots be received by local clerks by 8 p.m. on Election Day. In the case of absentee ballots, this means that voters must return their ballot to a clerk’s office or secure ballot drop box by 8 p.m. on Election Day. In 2020, thousands of ballots were rejected for late arrival.

    All valid absentee ballots that arrived to clerk offices or drop boxes prior to the deadline, and had the voter’s signature on the envelope that matched the signature on file with their registration, were counted.

    In many larger jurisdictions, absentee ballots that arrived on Election Day were marked as received and put through security checks at clerk offices prior to being brought to absent voter counting boards. If a ballot arrived at a clerk’s office at 8 p.m., it may not move through the process and be sent to the counting board for several hours. This is why, in cities including Detroit, ballots arrived at counting boards several hours after polling places had closed.

    Unfortunately, some political organizations were unaware that it is standard practice for absentee ballots to arrive at counting boards several hours after polls have closed. They urged supporters to go to Detroit’s counting board to challenge alleged fraud. When hundreds arrived, what had been a calm, bipartisan process before polls closed was transformed into a contentious melee. Many of the newly arrived challengers and observers had not participated in training provided by Detroit officials, and some began issuing challenges not allowed under Michigan election law or instigating conflict with election workers. This resulted in unfortunate interpersonal interactions based on a lack of trust, but it did not impact the actual tabulation of votes. In fact, Michigan law requires that challenged ballots are counted as normal but marked so that they can be retrieved if necessary. Some challengers were eventually escorted out by law enforcement.

    Claims of wrongdoing in Detroit’s election and absentee counting board have all been answered by election officials, including Chris Thomas, the former Michigan Bureau of Elections director, who oversaw state elections for decades under both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state, and served as a senior advisor to the Detroit clerk’s office ahead of and during the 2020 general election. Additionally, the claims have been rejected by multiple judges in the state. Wayne County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Kenny, originally appointed by Republican Governor John Engler, found many of the claims to be “incorrect and not credible.” Following are more detailed explanations of specific false claims made about election administration in Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan.

    • All absentee ballot envelopes that were received were stamped by clerks’ offices with the date they arrived. However, in some cases, this date was not entered into the computer tracking system. Therefore, when these ballots were encountered later, the dates that had been marked on their envelopes was entered into the computer system. In Michigan, ballots themselves are not stamped with dates, and postmarks are not recorded at all, as Michigan law does not allow ballots that arrive after 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted, regardless of postmark.
    • Absentee ballots were not scanned multiple times inappropriately in Detroit. This was only done if ballots could not be read by the tabulation machine. Had ballots been counted multiple times, the number of total ballots counted would be higher than the total number of voters who voted, but in Detroit slightly fewer ballots were counted than voters whose names were in pollbooks (due to common clerical errors, more explanation follows).
    • When there are more or fewer ballots than voters in the pollbook without explanation, the precinct is deemed “out of balance.” These clerical errors are common in precincts across the state and nation. In Detroit, at least 72% of precincts were in balance or explained in the general election of 2020, compared to just 42% in the general election of 2016. It is more common for precincts to be out of balance without explanation in counties with large populations, as clerks and bipartisan boards of canvassers have far more precincts to work through but the same amount of time to do so as smaller jurisdictions.
    • Although it can be difficult to recruit Republican challengers in Detroit – just as it is difficult to recruit Democratic challengers elsewhere in the state – there were always challengers from both parties in Detroit’s absentee ballot counting board. Further, some windows were covered to stop those outside from improperly filming the people and private information in the counting board, while other windows were left uncovered to ensure additional transparency.
    • No ballot tabulation machines were connected to the internet at Detroit’s counting board. The machines were networked locally to each other and the adjudication machines by ethernet cable, and so some people wrongly believed they were online. They were not.
    • By telling voters that they could vote straight ticket, Detroit election workers reminded voters of a convenience offered to Michigan voters. Workers should not suggest what party to vote straight ticket for but can assist voters even if the voters have voluntarily told the workers who they want to vote for. In 2016, nearly 97% of Detroiters who voted cast ballots for Hillary Clinton. In 2020, 95% voted for President-elect Biden.
    • The Wayne County Statement of Votes Report included zeroes in the registered voters column at the end of the report because those registered voters were already counted earlier in the report under each Detroit precinct. However, their votes were not. This is because, in accordance with Michigan election law, the City of Detroit reports absentee ballots by combined Absent Voter Counting Board (AVCB) instead of by precinct. Therefore, by entering zeroes in the AVCB rows, the county prevents double counting the number of registered voters in Detroit.
    • Michigan law does not require citizens to show photo identification to vote. If they don’t have ID they have the option to sign an affidavit stating they are not in possession of photo ID, and can then be given a ballot to vote. Michigan law states that the ballots provided to voters who sign such an affidavit are not provisional ballots and shall be counted like all other ballots.
    • When a voter is eligible to have their ballot counted but the voter’s name does not appear on the voter list (for example, if a voter returned their absent voter ballot after the absent voter ballot list in the pollbook was generated), the voter’s name is added to a supplemental list of voters in the pollbook. In some cases, election workers add a placeholder birthdate such as 1/1/1900 if the voter’s birthdate (which is not needed to count the ballot on Election Day) is not known. Some who viewed this process wrongly believed voters were being registered to vote with fake birth dates. This is not correct – the voters were not being registered (they were already registered), and the voter’s actual birthdate is known and kept by the election clerk in the voter file.
    • While Michigan law bars election workers and voters from wearing clothing or accessories that express support for a specific candidate or party in the election being conducted, the law allows them to wear items that show support for other groups and causes, and former candidates or officials no longer running for office, such as, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan.
    • If ballots are filled out in a way that tabulators cannot read them, state law requires that bipartisan teams adjudicate them to determine voter intent.
    • Voter turnout in Michigan increased by 8.7 percent in the general election of 2020 compared to 2016. All states saw turnout increase and 13 states had larger increases than Michigan. Statewide, 68% of registered voters cast ballots. In Detroit 51% of those registered voted.

    In the 2022 August primary, election workers at the absentee counting board operated in accordance with election laws, again. Claims to the contrary that circulated on social media shortly after the counting board closed, including those paired with images, included no evidence of wrongdoing.

    The election workers on site only counted ballots that had been signature matched, and the envelopes of those ballots were marked as having been signature matched by either a checkmark in the appropriate box, or with the name of the election worker who verified the signature stamped in or near the box.

    Election workers were allowed to bring into the counting board their bags containing some personal items and food, and to place them under their work chairs and tables. Challengers had the opportunity to request an inspection of any bag if they thought it was being used illegally.

    It is common for United States Postal Service bins to be used to carry ballots and envelopes within the counting board while they are processed and before the ballots are counted and sealed in ballot storage containers.

  • The bipartisan boards of canvassers at the county and state level are required by law to affirm the will of the people as demonstrated by the number of votes cast for each candidate in an election.

    Following the 2020 general election, the boards of canvassers in all of Michigan’s 83 counties, as well as the board of state canvassers, certified the results.

    Each board is comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats. Michigan law provides the county canvassers 14 days to examine everything that transpired in the elections in jurisdictions in their counties, and then certify the results and election. The state board of canvassers subsequently must vote to certify all the county elections. If canvassers were to encounter any evidence of fraud, they would need to report it to law enforcement. Following the 2020 election, no canvassers reported any fraud or other illegal activity occurred.

    The Board of Wayne County Canvassers initially deadlocked 2-2 in its vote to certify, but later in the same meeting, members voted 4-0 to certify. The initial vote was taken after some canvassers expressed concern about precincts that were out of balance in Detroit. However, out-of-balance precincts are common in Michigan and across the nation. They essentially represent clerical errors where the number of people who were checked into each poll book doesn’t exactly match the number of votes counted or ballots submitted. There are many reasons this can occur: for example, a voter being checked in at the right polling place but the wrong precinct, or a voter checking in but leaving with their ballot if they decide not to vote. In fact, at least 72% of all Detroit precincts were balanced or explained, compared to just 42% in 2016, when both the boards of county and state canvassers certified the election.

  • Preventative maintenance on voting equipment does not destroy data. Preventative maintenance of voting equipment is routinely performed every two years and is a necessary security and maintenance process. It does not destroy any records required to be maintained under federal law. Batteries do not contain data and their replacement ensures Michigan voting equipment continues to function properly.

    Federal law requires that election records are maintained for a minimum of 22 months after the certification of the federal election, and jurisdictions are allowed to preserve such records beyond 22 months.

    Following the 2020 election, all election materials, including ballots and tallies – which are always on paper in Michigan – and countless other materials, were preserved. The Bureau of Elections sent a memo to clerks following certification of the election reminding them, among other things, to delete voter information from e-pollbooks to protect voter privacy, as the e-pollbooks (which are laptop computers) are not used until a subsequent election and the electronic copy of the information is not needed. This is the same memo that has been sent to clerks for years. Before data is deleted, clerks have already printed a copy from each e-pollbook as a securely stored record.

  • The 2022 general election drew record breaking midterm turnout – nearly 4.5 million citizens voted, and more than 1.8 million did so with absentee ballots. The election was carried out very smoothly and securely and ballots were counted and unofficial results released more quickly than expected. The few issues that did arise did not violate voting rights or election laws.

    The Michigan Bureau of Elections worked with the Detroit City Clerk’s office on Election Day morning to quickly resolve a data error with electronic pollbooks – laptops with a download of the precinct’s voter registration list showing who has already requested and submitted an absentee ballot. Initially, some electronic pollbooks displayed an error message stating that the number on some ballots at polling places matched the number on absentee ballots that had already been issued. However, the pollbooks and qualified voter file showed the voters at the polling places had not already voted. The issue was resolved by checking in the voters on printed copies of the pollbook and correcting their ballot numbers so they could vote. No voters were turned away. Epollbooks and laptops at polling places are not connected to the Internet.

    At Detroit’s absentee ballot counting board on Election Night, valid ballots were delivered in batches after the 8 p.m. deadline for voters to submit them. This is because after the clerk’s office receives absentee ballots it must put them through security screening before bringing them to the counting board. Due to Detroit’s size, it can take several hours for all absentee ballots submitted on Election Day up to 8 p.m. to be security checked.

    At clerk offices on some university campuses, including Ann Arbor and East Lansing, lines formed for Election-Day registration and voting, and citizens who were in line at 8 p.m. were allowed to wait and register and vote. The United States Constitution gives every eligible citizen the right to register and vote.

    After the polls close, Michigan's 1,520 city and township clerks tabulate and report their unofficial results to 83 county clerks who then post the results on their websites. Media track the county sites for the statewide totals they continuously update and broadcast. In the Nov. 8, 2022 election numerous cities and townships continued counting votes and reporting unofficial results through midday on Nov. 9. As they provided unofficial results to the counties, and the counties posted them, media broadcast increases in vote tallies, sometimes in large numbers depending on the size and number of the jurisdictions reporting out their data.

  • Michigan election law authorizes the Secretary of State to issue instructions for the conduct of elections and registrations, including advising and directing local election officials and publishing a manual of instructions. The Michigan Election Administrators Manual was drafted more than a decade ago, and has not changed significantly since then. 

    Michigan’s elections are administered by the state’s 1,520 township and city clerks, who follow both the law and instructions in the Administrators Manual. 

    The law gives clerks and the election inspectors they hire the authority to maintain peace, regularity and order at polling places and absentee ballot counting boards, and the Administrators Manual therefore requires election challengers to interact with a challenger liaison, as that is an efficient and consistent procedure for resolving challenges while maintaining order. Similarly, clerks and election inspectors have the authority to eject challengers who repeatedly disobey they law and issue challenges that are impermissible under the law. 

    The law also protects the voter’s right to a secret ballot, which is why the Administrators Manual prohibits the use of cameras and recording devices in polling places and counting boards. Voters are allowed to take a photo of their ballot while in the voting booth, if they do so without photographing anything in addition to the ballot. At the clerk’s discretion, media organizations may be allowed to record quick panning shots of polling places as long as they do not capture personal information of voters.  

  • The East Lansing based company Konnech provides election logistics services and technology, including a program to assist jurisdictions with payroll management for election workers. The company has never had access to Michigan’s voter or election data, and the Michigan Bureau of Elections has never contracted with Konnech.

  • Errors reporting election results are not uncommon, but they are always caught and corrected by the election canvass if not before, because Michigan uses all paper ballots and prints paper tallies of the vote counts from its machines.

    Ahead of the 2022 August primary, supposed “results” from news channels appeared online and in Google search results erroneously. No votes had been counted in the election.

    News media often test their webpages with sample data ahead of elections to ensure they will function properly on election night. The news channels were running these routine tests when their sites were accidentally made live.

    In the 2020 general election, Antrim County initially reported incorrect unofficial results because the clerk had updated the software on some but not all of the county’s Dominion vote counting machines. This was a user error, and not a flaw in the technology. (A more detailed explanation of the error is available here.)

    A hand-tally audit of all the votes cast for president in Antrim County confirmed the machines had counted correctly and the certified election results were accurate. The audit was conducted by a bipartisan group of election officials with law enforcement and independent media present. It was also livestreamed for the public to view. (A statewide pilot risk-limiting audit after the 2020 March primary had demonstrated that Michigan’s vote-counting machines were accurate across the state.)

    Shortly before the Antrim County audit, a partisan group with no experience in election administration or election technology, and a history of making incorrect claims, wrote a report that falsely and without evidence claimed the Dominion machines had acted improperly. This was thoroughly debunked by Dominion and the statement of an actual election expert submitted to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

    After the audit, the attorney for the same partisan group that had released the false report released videos of the audit. By omitting explanation provided by election officials, the videos wrongly suggested the audit had been conducted improperly. In fact, officials explained that:

    • Dominion machines in Antrim County counted votes for president accurately.
      • Signatures do not appear on absentee ballots.
      • It is common for write-in candidates to appear in the same handwriting if the same election worker carries out the required act of duplicating the ballots of voters who are military/overseas/disabled (which are initially provided in a format that cannot be machine tabulated).
      • In accordance with the law, all materials from the election would be securely stored for 22 months should further investigation be necessary.
      • Anyone who found evidence of fraud or any criminal activity should report it to the local law enforcement officials on site.

      Following these explanations, no one expressed concern with the audit or made any reports of wrongdoing to law enforcement, including the attorney for the partisan group.

      In all, 65 Michigan counties used Dominion machines in the 2020 general election. Ninety percent of them – 59 out of 65 – were won by President Trump.

  • The use of a Sharpie permanent marker to mark a ballot will not invalidate or cancel a ballot or vote. If the marker does bleed through to the other side, ballots are designed so that the bleed through does not touch or come near a voting area on the other side of the ballot.

    It will not alter or cancel any vote on the opposite side. The Sharpie is the recommended marking instrument by tabulator manufacturers and is preferable to an ink pen because it dries quickly and will not leave residue on the ballot scanner.

     

  • Michigan’s list of voter registrations is constantly updated in an electronic database called the Qualified Voter File. The secure file can be accessed by the Michigan Bureau of Elections and county, city and township clerks can access the portion of the file that pertains to their jurisdiction.

    Third parties cannot access the Qualified Voter File. However, organizations that register voters can upload their registrations to the voter file electronically. The registrations they upload are put through security checks to confirm eligibility before they are added to the voter file.

    Michigan has strong voter registration rates. This is partly due to the fact that decades ago Michigan pioneered the motor-voter system – now a national best practice – whereby eligible citizens can register to vote when obtaining a driver’s license of state ID. In 2018, Michigan citizens approved a constitutional amendment to make this process automatic, unless the person is ineligible or opts out of registration.

    Maintenance of the voter registration list is carried out in strict accordance with all relevant state and federal laws by the Michigan Bureau of Elections and the more than 1,600 Republican, Democratic and nonpartisan election clerks in the state. The process by which the registrations of people who die or move out of state is described in detail on the voter registration cancelation procedures page.

    Following the 2020 general election, lists began circulating with thousands of names of people who allegedly had votes cast in their name who were dead. However, these claims have been disproven by numerous election officials, independent journalists, the State Senate Oversight Committee and the state Auditor General.