400-plus Michigan overseas ballots list wrong running mate for Trump

Beth LeBlanc Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — More than 400 Michigan military and overseas ballots were downloaded from a state database Tuesday with the incorrect running mate for President Donald Trump, listing a Libertarian candidate in the place of Vice President Mike Pence.

It's not clear how many of the more than 400 ballots were actually sent to voters before the error was discovered and corrected, according to Tracy Wimmer, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. 

An incorrect version of a ballot lists Jeremy Cohen as President Donald Trump's running mate. The state of Michigan has caught and corrected the error.

The error occurred with ballots meant to be mailed or emailed to Michigan residents living abroad under the Military and Overseas Empowerment (MOVE) Act. Those ballots usually are downloaded by local clerks' offices upon request from an overseas voter and either printed and mailed, or downloaded via PDF and emailed to the voter before the election. 

Within a roughly two-hour time frame Tuesday afternoon, ballots downloaded from the state website to be mailed or emailed to those overseas “had an error in the presidential race impacting how candidates and running mates were listed,” according to an email sent from the state to clerks impacted by the error. 

A copy of the ballot mistake shows Jeremy Cohen, Jo Jorgenson’s Libertarian running mate, listed in the place of Pence under Trump. Jorgenson is listed by herself without a running mate in the Libertarian slot on the ballot. 

Clerks attempting to print off or download a MOVE ballot during those hours were alerted via a banner on their screen that there was a problem with the system and the state sent an email to explain the problem further shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The email, according to a copy obtained by The Detroit News, noted the issue had been corrected and “voters who received the incorrect ballot must be sent a replacement MOVE ballot ASAP.”

Vice President Mike Pence salutes on stage with his wife Karen after speaking on the third day of the Republican National Convention at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020.

The state also provided clerks a list of impacted voters, instructions on how to spoil ballots if necessary and a sample letter to help explain the error to voters. The incorrect ballots were the result of "a temporary error" in the voter file data, Wimmer said Tuesday.

"If a voter does happen to return the incorrect ballot instead of the correct ballot, it will still count," Wimmer said. "The clerk will be instructed to duplicate a vote for Trump onto a ballot for Trump/Pence."

Joel Hondorp, the city clerk in Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second-largest city, said his office didn’t send out any incorrect ballots on Tuesday. He described the problem as “a little bit of a glitch.”

Joe Riker, the clerk for Brighton Township in Livingston County, said his office sent out two ballots that were incorrect. But once the office found out about the problem, it was able to reach out to the individuals to whom the incorrect ballots were sent, he said. 

“There hasn’t been too much guidance from the state of Michigan,” said Riker, noting he’s heard about other clerks who sent out more incorrect ballots than his office did. 

The issue shouldn’t be a concern for voters because it’s being corrected, he said.

“This just threw a wrench in the gearbox,” he said.

In Warren, City Clerk Sonja Buffa had printed out three overseas ballots between 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. that contained the incorrect information, but she never sent the ballots overseas.

Because the ballots weren’t mailed, they could be easily reprinted without having to notify the voter of the mistake, Buffa said.