Voting Errors a Bigger Risk Than Voter Fraud in Michigan

Oct 20, 2020

Credit Max Johnston / Interlochen Public Radio

President Donald Trump has called into question the validity of voting by mail, but documented instances of voting fraud are few and far between. Rather than fraud, absentee voters may want to focus on following the rules.

"It is beneficial to voters to get their absentee ballots in as soon as possible,” Michigan Secretary of State Spokesperson Jake Rollow said.

Here in Michigan, Macomb County GOP Chair Mark Forton says his faith that President Trump will be re-elected is limited by just one thing.

“My only fear is voter fraud,” Forton told WDET’s Laura Herberg in August. “It's mentioned all the time, but nobody really believes it. Nobody really in power does anything about it. But it's there. It’s there big time.”

These are the documented cases of voter fraud that have happened in Michigan since 2010:

In 2013, a non-citizen voted. 

In 2013, a non-citizen was convicted of having voted illegally in 2008. 

In 2013/2014, multiple people were involved in a case where they collected absentee ballots for other people and turned them in illegally. 

In 2015, a man voted in a county where he wasn't a resident.

In 2019 a person attempted to obtain an absentee ballot as someone else. 

These cases come from combining records from the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office and the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation also tracks cases related to ballot petition fraud which are not listed here.

Of these five recorded instances of voter fraud in the last decade, only two involve mail-in voting, which is the type of voting that President Trump has taken issue with. These limited instances, however, show that documented voter fraud is not rampant. But that doesn’t mean voters can have blind faith in the democratic process.

The system is only as good as its weakest link and for many voters that link is themselves.

Avoid these mistakes that cost about 10,000 Michigan votes in the August Primary Election:

1. Sign Your Ballot So It Matches What’s On File

In the August Primary, more than 2,200 ballots were thrown out because a signature required on the ballot return envelope was omitted or didn’t match what was on file (TIP: For most voters the signature on file is usually what’s on their driver’s license). A new state law passed in October requires clerks to contact voters when they find a ballot with a signature issue. Canton Clerk Michael Siegrist says in order for the law to be effective clerks need to have access to voters’ contact information.

“Most people, if they've put a phone number or an email on their application, you can get in touch with them fairly easily, and that is a majority of the people who apply,” says Siegrist. “If you don't have an immediate form of contact, you would have to write them a letter. That's unfortunate.”

Rather than wait to see if a clerk can get a hold of you, it’s best to just make sure you sign your return envelope and stick to your normal signature.

2. Make sure you vote where you are registered to vote on Election Day.

Absentee ballots can be thrown out when a resident moves and then votes using a location other than where they’re registered on Election Day. More than one thousand absentee ballots were discarded in the August Primary for this reason.

Discrepancies may have occurred because, if a Michigan resident moves and updates their driver’s license, the new address is automatically applied to their voter registration. This can cause problems when a person moves after they mail in their ballot. If you moved since the last time you voted (or will be moving before Election Day) it’s not a bad idea to contact your clerk to make sure you’re voting in the right place.

3. Get your ballot in on time

The biggest election mistake in August (on the user-end) was more than 6,000 people didn’t get their ballots to their clerks’ office by 8 p.m. on Election Day. None of these late ballots were counted.

In September, a Michigan Court of Claims judge ruled that – due to postal delays – ballots will need to be accepted as long as they are postmarked by the day prior to the election and arrive before November 17th.  Last week this decision was overturned by the Michigan Court of Appeals. As a result, ballots, once again, need to arrive by 8 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted.

“It is beneficial to voters to get their absentee ballots in as soon as possible,” says Michigan Secretary of State Spokesperson Jake Rollow. “Fill them out, sign the back… take them directly to their clerk's office or their clerks’ drop box.”

Voters can look up where to take their ballots here.

4. Don’t forget to put your ballot in the envelope

This may sound obvious but you need to remember to actually put their ballot inside the envelope before they return it.  Thirty one people made that mistake in August and their votes were not counted. To put that in perspective, that means mailing in an envelope without a ballot was a bigger issue in the last election than voter fraud.

You can track the status of your ballot (whether its been mailed to you, or whether its been received by your local clerk) here.