News Story

After state audit, Michigan Secretary of State purges dead from voter rolls quarterly

Jocelyn Benson's office now offers a post-audit certification, after audit found half of county clerks took no such training

In March, when Michigan Auditor General Doug Ringler published his audit of the Bureau of Elections, he saw dead people on the voter rolls. 

Ringler found that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson did not regularly reconcile Michigan's Driver License File from its Qualified Voter File. This resulted in thousands of dead being carried on the qualified voter rolls. 

Over a seven-week period between December 2020 and March 2021, the audit found the names of 3,650 dead people, as noted in Michigan’s Vital Records File, who still appeared on Michigan’s Qualified Voter File.

As a result, the Secretary of State changed its procedures, and now conducts quarterly reconciliation.

“Performance audits are conducted on a priority basis related to the potential for improving state government operations,” explained the Office of Auditor General website. “The OAG’s primary objective for conducting performance audits is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of state government operations.”

Ringler made four findings, all of which were agreed to by Benson. They are:

  • Benson “did not perform periodic reconciliation” between the driver’s license file and the Qualified Voter File, which is the list of registered voters in the state.
  • There are insufficient controls over access to the Electronic Poll Book.
  • Post-election audit procedures are lacking.
  • Post-election audit training was spotty, as 52% of county clerks had not reviewed the relevant webinars or videos. That’s 43 out of 83 clerks. Among those 43, eight were not fully accredited. By November 2021, however, all but four county clerks are fully accredited, meaning they had satisfied state training requirements.

Since the release of the audit, there have been elections in May and August, and there is another one coming up in November. Benson's office said she began making adjustments immediately.

The audit found that even when dead people do vote in Michigan, they're mostly absentee voters who died between casting their ballot and election day. 

In finding 1, Ringler learned that in the eight elections between May 2019 and November 2020, there were 11.7 million votes cast in Michigan. Of those, 2,775 votes were cast by people who had died. All but 10 of those were absentee votes.

Timing accounted for the majority of the problem. Michiganders are allowed to cast absentee votes 40 days ahead of Election Day. Of the 2,775 votes cast by the dead, 2,734 were cast by people who died within 40 days of Election Day. The remaining 41 were cast by people who had died 41 days or more before the election.

Ringler writes that legislators should clarify several questions about deceased voters, including this: If a voter casts a vote, and then dies before the election, should that vote count?

Finding No. 4, that 52% of county clerks and 59% of other election officials failed to complete post-audit training, was the most serious. This included the county clerks in Wayne and Washtenaw.

While the other three findings were “reportable conditions,” meaning less severe, the fourth finding was a more serious “material condition.” This fourth finding is due to the “exception rates,” and “the lack of a certification training program to demonstrate the participation and competency of county clerks and other election officials."

Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Elections, told Michigan Capitol Confidential that Benson has since created a post-audit certification for county clerks, and all 83 clerks are now certified. 

Michigan returns to the polls on Nov. 8.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.