Q. What is the basic process for canvassing and certifying election results?
A. Each county has a Board of County Canvassers that is made up of four members which includes two Republicans and two Democrats. It is the responsibility of the Board to canvass and certify the results of the election for its county. If the results are for a race that is contained in more than one county, the results are forwarded to the Board of State Canvassers. The State Board also has the same party make up (an even split of two Republicans and two Democrats).
The canvassing process consists of reviewing the poll book. The poll book basically tells the story of what happened on election day and serves as a record of the election. It includes confirmation that the tabulator has been tested to ensure accuracy, the oaths of the inspectors, the list of voters commonly referred to as the poll list, the list of challenged voters and procedural challenges, write-in votes, provisional ballots, spoiled ballots, a comments or remarks section for the poll workers to record pertinent information of what happened throughout the day, and the Certificate of Election Inspectors and a Statement of Votes. The Certificate of Election Inspectors includes the total number of ballots tabulated which is then checked against the voter list to ensure the numbers match, seal numbers to ensure they match, and the statement of votes which is taken from the tape of each of the tabulators. The canvassers may bring in the elections inspectors/workers if they have any questions regarding the poll books.
Once this has been reviewed, any discrepancies that may have been found, must be accounted for before the results are certified. As mentioned above, if the race in question is contained in more than one county, the results are forwarded to the State Board of Canvassers where they certify the election.
For more information on the county canvass please see this manual: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/sos/BCC_Manual_464331_7.pdf
Q. Can election results be audited?
A. Under the previous Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson, the department in conjunction with the counties did random audits of various precincts after the election, these prior reviews did not audit the results of an election, but merely looked at the process and procedures to ensure that clerks and election officials were doing things properly. However, Proposal 3 from 2018 included the following: “The right to have the results of statewide elections audited, in such a manner as prescribed by law, to ensure the accuracy and integrity of elections.”
As a result, the Legislature approved, and the governor signed, implementation language in late 2018, putting in place the following (MCL 168.31a):
(1) In order to ensure compliance with the provisions of this act, after each election the secretary of state may audit election precincts.
(2) The secretary of state shall prescribe the procedures for election audits that include reviewing the documents, ballots, and procedures used during an election as required in section 4 of article II of the state constitution of 1963. The secretary of state and county clerks shall conduct election audits, including statewide election audits, as set forth in the prescribed procedures. The secretary of state shall train and certify county clerks and their staffs for the purpose of conducting election audits of precincts randomly selected by the secretary of state in their counties. An election audit must include an audit of the results of at least 1 race in each precinct selected for an audit. A statewide election audit must include an audit of the results of at least 1 statewide race or statewide ballot question in a precinct selected for an audit. An audit conducted under this section is not a recount and does not change any certified election results. The secretary of state shall supervise each county clerk in the performance of election audits conducted under this section. Updated 11/10/2020
(3) Each county clerk who conducts an election audit under this section shall provide the results of the election audit to the secretary of state within 20 days after the election audit.
These audits take place after the results have been certified.
Q. Have challenged ballots always been put through the tabulator or is 2020 the first election year that allows this to occur?
A. Yes, challenged ballots have always been allowed to be tabulated. There has been some confusion here, and some have alleged that this is a change in procedure. Challenged ballots are marked in a way that will allow review if a court later rules that the ballots may be reviewed for the purposes of a recount.
A different type of ballot, called a “provisional” ballot, or “envelope” ballot is a ballot that is not typically counted on Election day. These ballots are distributed to persons who insist they are eligible to vote in a particular precinct but cannot provide the required documentation (i.e. utility bill, etc.) to prove their residency. These provisional ballots are only counted if a person, within six days from the election, can prove that they were registered and eligible to vote that ballot on Election Day by providing the proper documentation to the local clerk. The local clerk then transmits the information to the County Board of Canvassers to include in the vote totals.
Q. Can teenagers (under the age of 18) serve as election inspectors?
A. Yes. Per statute (168.677), anyone aged 16 or order can work as a precinct worker as long as they are trained like all other workers. However, a precinct captain must be over the age of 18.
Q. Is it true that polling locations that used sharpie markers for ballot markings invalidated votes?
A. No. While some polling locations provided felt tip pens or other markers, if a marking bled through and affected a vote, the tabulator would not have accepted the ballot and instead spit the ballot out and flagged the error for the voter to fix.
Q. Were Republican poll challengers prohibited from observing the absentee ballot count at TCF/Cobo Hall?
A. Not entirely. Many Republican poll challengers were let into the TCF Center/Cobo Hall while absentee votes were being counted, and some Republican challengers have confirmed that both parties were at the maximum number of challengers permitted by law. There have been additional reports that Detroit police have prevented challengers from entering, but at this point it is unknown. Additionally, Michigan’s election law clearly lays out procedures for poll challengers who want to observe in a polling place or an absent voter counting board. The law requires challengers to get credentialed from a sponsoring organization such as the Republican or Democrat Party. To get credentialed, poll challengers must go through a training session to ensure they understand the relevant election laws. A member of the public who has gone through the training and received credentials from a sponsoring organization can be in the polling place or absentee counting board and challenge ballots. A member of the public without credentials does not necessarily have a right to be present to observe the process. Updated 11/10/2020
Q. The Secretary of State’s website seems to indicate that dead people have submitted absentee ballots, how can this be?
A. In December of 2019, the Auditor General released a performance audit of the Bureau of Elections (BOE). The audit found that 230 people in the qualified voter file had birthdates that indicated their age exceeded 122 years. BOE explained that these records were likely carried over from antiquated voter files prior to the development of the QVF. If old files did not indicate a birthdate, they were assigned a birth year that was implausible as an indicator to update the file. It is referred to as a placeholder date of birth. These updates have not yet taken place. Representative Hall has introduced House Bill 6177 to help remedy this issue and provide a process for SOS to update voter information.
Q. Thousands of ballots were delivered in the middle of the night to TCF Hall.
A. True. However, this is not necessarily fraudulent. TCF Hall is the location where the City of Detroit was performing the counting of the absentee ballots. These ballots had to be delivered to TCF Hall in order to be counted, so the claim of ballots arriving in the night does not necessarily mean fraud has occurred. Absentee ballots are delivered to the various jurisdictions by mail, in person, or by drop boxes all the way until 8 p.m. on election day. Signatures on those envelopes must be checked against the QVF and other legitimate pre-processing activities take place before they can be dropped off at the AV counting boards to be tabulated. This is a plausible explanation for what was reported. This election allowed clerks in jurisdictions over 25,000 to establish pre-processing precincts. This meant that the local clerk had to prepare the ballots received up to that point for delivery to the preprocessing precinct. The preprocessing occurred on Monday and most of the clerks prepared the materials for delivery on Saturday. That left several days of returned ballots to be delivered after the receipt of the election day ballots.
Q. Who can ask for a recount in a presidential election?
A. Per state law, an aggrieved candidate who believes that fraud or error has been committed may ask for precincts to be recounted. You may recall that in 2016 the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein asked for a statewide recount. That request was challenged in court by the Trump administration and the State Republican Party, and because Jill Stein had no credible chance on winning; the court ruled she was not an aggrieved candidate. It should also be noted that the current margin of this year’s presidential race is just shy of 150,000 votes. The likelihood of a successful recount of that margin is nearly impossible.
Q. Secretary of State Benson announced that around 19,000 voters registered on Election Day, how can this be?
A. In 2018, Michigan voters passed an amendment to our state constitution which added the right to register to vote on Election Day – commonly referred to as same-day registration. Following the passage of this proposal, the Legislature in December of 2018 passed statutory changes to put procedures in place for same-day voter registration. While an individual can register to vote on Election Day, the law states that they must register at their clerk’s office and show proof of residency if they want to vote in that election. Furthermore, if a voter registered within the last 14 days before the election, they would be issued a challenged ballot. These measures were in place on November 3.
Q. How do I know that my absentee ballot was received?
A. The Secretary of State has a website, the Michigan Voter Information Center, which among other various search options, allows a voter to input their information and find out the date that their application for a ballot was received, the date that the absentee ballot was sent out, and the date that the absentee ballot was received by the clerk.
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