Guest Article: County Clerk Weighs In On Subject Of Voter Fraud
By Drew Robinson-Newaygo County Clerk
In a nationwide study conducted last week(*) only 63% of respondents said that they had confidence in the local election system where they live.
This means that one out of three voters in America voting in next Tuesday’s General Election does not trust our electoral system. Now, I understand that polls are polls, that this survey may or may not represent the sentiment of Michigan or Newaygo County voters, but I do believe it is indicative of a serious concern: if we, as a society, cannot (or choose not) to trust our electoral system, then...
...the very structure of our democratic form of government – from the Federal to the local levels – is in serious jeopardy. Regardless of which – if any – political party one affiliates themselves with, this should be cause for serious concern.
In my experience, many voters’ suspicions of voter fraud are actually due to a lack of understand or misinformation about our electoral system, especially at the local level. Admittedly, this system is complex and has many components. And so, I would like to give a brief overview of the election process for the coming election, address a few of the common voter fraud theories and explain how our electoral system addresses them.
Before I begin outlining the process, take a look at the Election Officials’ Manual, with the cover removed:
That is nearly a full inch thick, printed on both sides of each page. And it should be this thick – because it outlines an election system that has been carefully designed and is reviewed and refined by the Michigan Department of State – Bureau of Elections every election cycle to ensure the integrity of every vote. Every County, Township and City Clerk must be familiar with this manual and accredited by the Bureau of Elections as familiar with its contents before they are allowed to manage an election.
Elections are managed at a local level. Township and City Clerks have many legal requirements to fulfil in preparation for an election: coordinating with the County Clerk the publishing announcement of the dates, collecting affidavits of identity and petitions from candidates, and submitting candidate and ballot information to the County Clerk. They also must conduct public accuracy tests of the voting equipment to ensure that it functions properly. The local Election Commission, which, depending on the structure of governance, consists of various Township or City Officials, are responsible for appointing trained Election Inspectors to work on Election Day.
The County Clerk is responsible for collecting the Affidavits of Identity and proposals from the local clerks, preparing the ballots necessary for printing, and convening the County Election Commission (County Clerk, Treasurer and Chief Judge of Probate Court) to review and approve the ballots. This is not an easy task: because of multiple school districts in each township and city, each precinct has multiple ballot styles. For this election, Newaygo County has 65 ballot styles for 30 precincts.
The County Clerk is also responsible for the training and certification of all Election Inspectors in the County. Every two years, they must come to White Cloud and undergo two hours or more of very detailed and specific training regarding how to properly run an election. When you see them working at the polls, understand that this training is indeed a sacrifice: election law is only slightly more exciting than tax law, and this training represents two hours of these peoples’ lives that will never get back.
On Election Day, these Inspectors each have a station to work, and are supervised by a Chair and are given an oath of office before they begin working. If an issue arises in which they are insure of how to proceed, they are able to call upon the help of their Township/City Clerk or the County Clerk, who is almost always able to address the issue (see the Election Officials’ Manual above). If not, they can contact the Bureau of Elections directly for an immediate resolution.
After the election, all Inspectors must sign the results tape printed by the voting equipment which is returned, along with the poll book, to the County Clerk’s office. The paper ballots are sealed, and cannot be opened except by court order until after the State Canvass of Votes is complete. At the County Clerk’s office, the results are compiled and secured by the Chief Judge of the Probate Court until 1:00 p.m. the following day, when they are delivered to the County Board of Canvassers.
The Board of Canvassers will then spend multiple days reviewing the printed election results for every precinct, compare them to the number of voters registered into the poll book, and finally certify the votes to make them official. If there are any discrepancies, even a single vote, the local Clerk and/or all of the Election Inspectors may be called into the Canvass Board’s meeting to resolve the issue.
Now, I can already hear you saying: “That’s nice, but it isn’t foolproof. What about…” And so, here we go:
COMMON VOTER FRAUD THEORIES
There are as many different ways one could theoretically attempt to thwart this system as there are shooter on the grassy knoll in Dallas in 1963. However, they fall into five general categories:
Vote early, vote often. As famous as the idea of dead people casting votes may be, it is more difficult and daunting to pull off than you may think. The County Clerk’s office, as well local Clerks, regularly monitor notices of death (every County in Michigan in legally required to alert the County of residence of the passing of someone pronounced dead in their jurisdiction), and then remove the decedent from the Qualified Voter File, the Statewide list of registered voters. In addition, the State of Michigan receives notices of death from other states and removes names as well. If an individual is not caught with these methods, there is also a voter automatic countdown: if a registered voter has not voted in three subsequent general elections, a notice will be sent to their registered address asking them if they would like to remain registered. If no response is received, the voter is automatically removed from the Qualified Voter File.
Even with these measures, however, much has been made by some sources that there are more qualified voters than residents in certain districts in Michigan. This is reasonable, as there any exceptions to physical residency for the purpose of voter registration, including college students and snowbirds who are away the majority of the year. It is also worth noting that attempting to vote in someone else’s name is a felony. The consequences of this crime have proven to be enough to deter even the most ardent of activists from proving whether or not this is a likely way to commit voter fraud or not.
Also, consider how impractical this option would be for the purpose of affecting the results of an election: each person willing to commit fraud would likely only be able to vote once in a polling location, either legally or illegally. If they keep coming through the line to vote and register under numerous names, Inspectors will likely contact law enforcement. So, to affect the outcome of the election, you would need as many fraudulent voters willing to be convicted of a felony as you would need fraudulent votes: considering that in 2012, only 58% of people legally registered to vote did so, that would seem to be a daunting prospect.
It’s in the mail. Although ID or a signed affidavit is required at the polls on Election Day to vote, may believe it is much easier to request an absentee ballot for another person and vote for them. This could then play out two different ways: if the person committing fraud know that registered voter has moved away, there is no chance of duplication. If the person is indeed living in the precinct, when they discover that an absentee ballot has already been received in their name, they would simply not be allowed to vote.
Both of these theories would be very unlikely to be successful. The Qualified Voter File is directly tied to the Michigan Driver's License Registry, so if someone moves and changes the address on their license (as is required by law), their voter registration automatically changes with them. If, however, they forget to change their address, they will still remain registered at their original address and not at their new residence. In no circumstance could a person be registered in two precinct in Michigan. Should the person move out-of-state, chances are that they would change their driver’s license (again, as required by law). The majority of states have reciprocity with Michigan regarding such information, and their registration in Michigan would be cancelled.
However, if the registered voter went to the polls only to discover someone had fraudulently voted absentee in their name already, they could complete a provisional ballot and request that the absentee ballot be spoiled if it had not been processed already.
Border Control. Accusations have been made recently that illegal immigrants have been allowed to vote in some states because of lax ID requirements. In Michigan, if you have your photo ID with you at the polls you are required to produce it. If not, you must sign an affidavit that you are indeed whom you claim to be. However, you must be registered to vote before the affidavit can be accepted, and a photo ID and proof of citizenship are required in this process.
Experiencing Technical Issues. The programming for the voting equipment used in Newaygo County is done by a third-party vendor, but it is checked for accuracy before the election in every precinct. All local Clerks at statutorily required to conduct a public accuracy test of all voting equipment used in their precinct. This test must be conducted according to a rubric set the Bureau of elections, in which each potential vote must be tested against 23 different election laws for compliance. These results are then certifies by the local Election Commission, and are sealed. If there is a question regarding the accuracy of the equipment after the election, these results can then be unsealed by court order and reviewed again.
However, the greatest safeguard against fraudulent programming of election equipment is the paper ballots which each voter completes and feeds into the machine. These are kept sealed until the State Board of Canvassers completes their certification process in case a recall is necessary. You simply cannot reprogram the paper.
GREAT BIG CONSPIRACIES
Trust no one. These are most varied and plentiful theories, and thus the hardest to rebut. However, the two I hear most often are: 1) that the voting machines are produced by companies that are sympathetic to one of the two major political parties, and have been secretly programed to alter the presidential election results for their candidate, and 2) that one of the two major political parties has a grass-roots level conspiracy in specific areas to accept fraudulent votes or to reject valid votes in an attempt to swing the presidential election.
Regarding the first theory, I have two questions of the theorists:
Michigan is one of the few states in the nation that continues to conduct elections at the City and Township level; many others are held at the County level. We should be proud of the local control we hold over our electoral process: when we walk into our precincts, our poll workers are our friends, families and neighbors. The officials that appointed them and who are managing the operations are from our own community. If we can’t trust them, whom else would we prefer? (*)Rasmussen Reports, LLC. 625 Cookman Avenue, Suite 1 Asbury Park, NJ 07712. Most Fear Voter Fraud, Say Candidates Shouldn't Accept Early Results. : n.p., n.d. Print.
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