A guest post by Elizabeth Ayoub and Patrice Johnson
Compromise can have its benefits, but playing loose with election law is a slippery slope. A comprehensive report released by Michigan Fair Elections and Pure Integrity Michigan Elections on June 21, 2023, sheds light on violations of Michigan election law and inconsistent applications of other laws during the November 2022 election in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Some of these violations and inconsistencies might be considered discriminatory.
After months of investigation, the report, titled Ann Arbor Compromises Integrity during 2022 Election, provides evidence obtained from open-source (publicly available) documents, Freedom of Information Act requests, Michigan’s official voter record (Qualified Voter File), and electronic poll book information.
The investigation focused on one city in Michigan. Ann Arbor comprises 53 voting precincts out of the state’s total of 4,950 voting precincts. The documents analyzed include time-stamped voter history records, voter files, and information on the receipt of absentee ballots at precincts.
The MFE/PIME report states that in our constitutional republic, election laws are passed to protect the inalienable right of all citizens to have their votes counted. Any violation of the law undermines the integrity of elections and diminishes public confidence. Moreover, each ineligible vote cancels out an eligible vote, thereby infringing on the fundamental right of citizens to have their votes counted. Enforcement of election laws protects these rights. Violations of law erode them.
When violations are brought to light, citizens have the ability to demand the integrity of all public servants and all public processes.
The Ann Arbor report revealed several violations and erosions of public trust, including the following five:
Erosion of Trust Number One
The report revealed that time-stamped voter history records show 600 people in Ann Arbor registered to vote absentee after the legally mandated deadline of 8:00 p.m. on election day, November 8, 2022. Additionally, 120 individuals registered on November 9, 2022, outside the permissible registration period.
Six hundred (600) ineligible ballots were counted in one city in Michigan.
Erosion of Trust Number Two
According to state records, the Ann Arbor City clerk ignored the law that prohibits re-registration at a different precinct within 14 days of election day. Citizen investigators found approximately 180 instances of such re-registrations not only on election day, but also on the day after election day – November 9, 2022. Around 83% of the unlawful re-registrations occurred at the University of Michigan satellite offices.
The map above shows one example of more than 180 unlawful re-registrations that occurred within the City of Ann Arbor’s jurisdiction. Student X needed only to walk a couple of blocks to vote in his proper precinct.
The clerk had published the rules on her website:
Erosion of Trust Number Three
Michigan’s chief election official, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, issued erroneous guidance. Her tweet, at 6:19 p.m. on November 8, suggested that voters could register and vote at a clerk’s office or satellite office, even after 8:00 p.m. on election day. However, Michigan law only permits in-person voting at polling places, not satellite offices.
“Whether you’re at your precinct in line to vote or at your local clerk’s office in line to register and vote, as long as you are in line by 8p, you can still register and vote.” Benson’s tweet was contrary to Michigan law. In the fine print, her tweet contradicted itself, stating, “at your polling place” and “you have a right to cast your ballot.”
Voters may register at a clerk’s office or at a clerk’s satellite office, but voters can only vote in person at a polling place where they can feed their ballots in person into a tabulator. There are no tabulators at clerk offices; a satellite office is a voter registration site. Period. Voter records from a satellite office of Ann Arbor show that voters were registered to vote on November 9, 2022, the day after the election. They were issued an absentee ballot, and their tardy vote was counted.
A potential voter would not be permitted to vote on November 8, 2022, if that voter arrived at the clerk’s office at 8:00 p.m. and registered to vote. That voter would have to wait and vote in the next election. This is Michigan law, crafted by Michigan legislators, signed into law by a Michigan governor, and expected to be enforced by Michigan’s election officials.
Erosion of Trust Number Four
The report questions whether uniform and nondiscriminatory practices of election laws were followed in Ann Arbor. The location of the satellite offices near the University of Michigan facilities, while lacking similar accommodation near senior living facilities, raises concerns of potential discrimination.
According to the law, any program or activity to protect the integrity of the electoral process. . . shall: (1)be uniform and nondiscriminatory. The purpose of this law, passed in 1993 and signed into law by President Clinton, had the express purpose of making it easier for citizens to register to vote. Michigan clerks must follow not only Michigan election laws but also Federal election laws.
When the Ann Arbor clerk exercised her option to set up satellite offices, she established only two, and she placed them both in close proximity to the University of Michigan facilities. She placed no satellite office near a cluster of the largest senior living facilities in the southwest quadrant of the city. Is the public trust enhanced knowing that 18- to 22-year-olds at the university were given the accommodation of not having to walk so far, while residents of senior living facilities were not accommodated in the same way?
Erosion of Trust Number Five
The Washtenaw County Democrat Party provided food and amenities, including pizza. Hot chocolate, water, and blankets were also provided to voters waiting in line on Election Day. Michigan law prohibits a person from directly or indirectly giving or promising valuable consideration (a bribe) as an inducement to influence the manner of voting.
Ann Arbor’s new State Rep. Jason Morgan posts a selfie with a pizza on Twitter “Making sure students stay in line for same-day registration on campus. # VoteBlueToSaveDemocracy,” The Ann Arbor Independent, November 14, 2022.
Election officials were required to uphold the law and prevent prohibited conduct.
The report concludes by emphasizing the importance of maintaining the integrity and trust of elections in the United States. It suggests that violations and erosions of public trust, whether flagrant or subtle discriminatory practices, should serve as a catalyst for increased transparency and necessary changes. The report, in examining the actions of Ann Arbor, serves as a reminder that compromises in elections can have detrimental consequences.
Citizens deserve and are encouraged to demand integrity from public servants and processes and engage in informed discussions about election concerns. Upholding election laws and addressing violations are crucial to ensuring the fair and honest functioning of the electoral system. Elections are the people’s voice. Fair and honest elections are fundamental to human rights and to the United States, a constitutional republic.
While citizens might agree that compromise is often good for personal relationships, it can be detrimental to elections.
Hundreds of University of Michigan students waited in line for hours to register to vote at the Ann Arbor city clerk’s satellite office at the UM Museum of Art on Election Night, Nov. 8, 2022. Many students huddled in donated blankets and were served donated pizza and hot cocoa as temperatures dropped below 45 degrees. Image source: MLive. –Ryan Stanton | The Ann Arbor News.
Elizabeth Ayoub, a writer with Michigan Fair Elections, started her career working for an international company, transitioned into teaching French and Latin while her children were young, and then became a Michigan attorney. She resides in St. Johns.
Patrice Johnson chairs MFE and PIME. The former teacher has founded five successful companies and served as senior executive with a Fortune 100 technology company. Patrice authored the book, the Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson, is the basis of a documentary film that aired nationwide on PBS in 2022.