Motor Voter Mayhem: Michigan’s Voter Rolls in Disrepair

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: After surveying 30 jurisdictions throughout Michigan between 2011 and 2018, the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) discovered 2,264 cases of duplicate voting registrations, 1,514 instances of records indicating voter ages 105 or higher, and 1,444 cases where noncitizens were removed from voter rolls.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) directs states to offer voter registration when an individual applies for a driver’s license. Also, it requires states to keep their voter rolls up to date. But an examination of Michigan’s voter database reveals two major flaws: an inability to verify citizenship and a failure to ensure accuracy of the state’s voting database.

The NVRA only establishes an honor system, where applicants are directed to check a box indicating they are citizens, to prevent noncitizens from registering to vote. In Michigan, if applicants check the box “No,” indicating they are not citizens, they will be labeled as “Reject – Citizenship” and receive a rejection notice. If they check “No” but are already registered to vote and apply for a driver’s license, they are labeled “Cancel – Citizenship” and their registration is cancelled.

Despite the work of Ruth Johnson, the former Michigan Secretary of State, an examination of part of Michigan’s voter rolls shows that noncitizens are registered to vote and have voted in past elections.

In a 2012 report, Secretary Johnson found 1,000 noncitizens on voting rolls, 95 of whom had cast votes in previous elections. To ensure secure elections in the state, she submitted 10 individuals to Michigan’s Attorney General to be considered for prosecution, put in place a system whereby applicants are tracked who mark that they are not a citizen or have left the citizenship box blank, and tried to work with federal authorities to obtain citizenship data to better safeguard Michigan’s voter rolls.

Complying with PILF’s request to examine voter rolls yielded 822 cases in Detroit of noncitizen voter registrations being cancelled due to lack of citizenship—the highest number among Michigan jurisdictions and any single jurisdiction in the U.S. whose records PILF has examined. These findings lead PILF to believe other jurisdictions, such as Broward County, Florida, which is ten times the size of Detroit, have far worse problems than are currently known. (Broward officials removed just 19 noncitizens from voter rolls during the same span of time.)

The cities of Sterling Heights (164), Warren (85), Westland (71), Clinton Township (40), and Dearborn (84) also removed noncitizen voter registrations from their rolls.

PILF also discovered cases of duplicate voter registrations—which were caused by discrepancies with married/maiden names, gender, birthdate and also typographical errors and triplicate issues—and voters whose records indicated they were 105 or older. Detroit had the most records errors of any Michigan jurisdiction, with a little over 2,000.

Additionally, 13,677 records contain placeholder dates, indicating applicants registered to vote when they were not required to have information that is now mandatory. PILF maintains that records with placeholder dates are ripe for potential duplicate voting problems.

Solutions put forward by PILF to correct these issues include:

  •     Active monitoring of voter rolls by public officials where noncitizen records can be tracked.
  •     Replacing the faulty honor system with verification of citizenship at the time of voter registration.
  •     Participation in federal databases such as E-Verify.
  •     Opening channels of communication between the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies and states.
  •     Educating citizens and noncitizens on voting laws.
  •     Improving Michigan’s voter database to detect duplicate records.

Read the full report here.

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