State: Voters spoil 8,000-plus ballots as Democratic field shrinks

Michigan voters have spoiled more than 8,000 absentee ballots ahead of Tuesday's presidential primary as the Democratic field has shrunk, state officials said Wednesday, a more than 200% increase from 2016.  

The state's voters are able to spoil a ballot up until 4 p.m. Monday for any reason, including if a voter's chosen candidate drops out of the race. 

Michigan's new no-reason absentee voting option is expected to increase the use of absentee voting but could diminish the state's significance in the March presidential primary.

Oak Park City Clerk Ed Norris said “at least 50 of 66 spoiled ballots” in the past two days are believed to have resulted from candidates dropping out.

“This is probably only the beginning, but our counter has been pretty busy today,” said Norris, who did not have a tally of persons who had revoted.

Ferndale City Clerk Marne McGrath said 292 ballots had been issued this week, at least 41 “replacements” for earlier cast ballots.

“We have an area set up to help people that wish to revote but haven’t counted how many have used it,” McGrath said.

The number of ballots spoiled has increased as the number of Democratic candidates has winnowed. Hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer withdrew Saturday, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg Sunday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota Monday and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on Wednesday.

As of 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, clerks throughout Michigan had received 8,131 requests to spoil a ballot and cast a new one, a nearly 3,000-ballot jump from the 5,219 requests that had been made as of 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. 

Prior to Tuesday's total, clerks had received 3,894 requests for a new ballot. 

The 8,131 ballots spoiled so far mark a 206% surge from the 2,655 spoiled ballots around the same time ahead of the 2016 primary. 

The jump in spoiled ballots isn't surprising considering that more people than in years past are voting absentee and because of the surge former Vice President Joe Biden experienced as other Democratic contenders dropped out and endorsed him, said Lansing-based Democratic political consultant TJ Bucholz

"A lot of people want to cast their vote for who they think the eventual nominee will be," Bucholz said. "Biden's peaking at just the right time certainly for Michigan voters. I think many people are spoiling their AV ballot and casting votes for Biden.”

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont narrowly won the 2016 state primary over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but trailed Biden 29%-22.5% in a Detroit News/WDIV poll released Tuesday. 

Without a similar primary or absentee trend with which to compare the current numbers, it's difficult to say whether the number of spoiled ballots is significant, said Mark Grebner of Practical Political Consulting in East Lansing. The 8,000-plus total still comprises bout 1% of the overall absentee ballots mailed out.

Grebner had no doubt Biden would snap up most of the spoiled ballots. 

"What I see is a very distinct phenomenon," he said. "All over liberal class America, all we care about is beating Trump and we see Biden as a not very good vessel for our hopes. But we see Bernie as an absolute screaming horror.”

As of Wednesday, clerks had sent out 864,312 absentee ballots across the state, an 84% increase from the 470,909 ballots sent out at the same time in 2016. Clerks had received back 522,330 ballots, a 64% hike from the 319,315 ballots received four years ago. 

Voters who want to change their vote can request to spoil their ballot and request a new one by mail before 2 p.m. Saturday or in person before 4 p.m. Monday. Requests to spoil a ballot ahead of Election Day must be made in writing in-person at the clerk’s office or voting center, by regular mail, by fax or through a signed letter emailed to the clerk. 

If a voter’s ballot has already been received by the clerk, there is no option to spoil the ballot on Election Day. 

Several Oakland County cities reported being busy with voters declaring their ballots spoiled and seeking a new ballot.

Troy City Clerk Aileen Dickson said without handcounting, she was unable to provide a specific number of spoiled ballots and those who have revoted but said since Tuesday there have been a request for 450 ballots.

“That’s in one day,” she said. “We also received about 200 completed ballots and I suspect that many of those are people who have revoted.

“I can tell you this that with every announcement, we see another wave of people coming in,” Dickson said. “There has been a steady line of people requesting ballots and six city employees have been very busy here.”

Dickson said election day primaries usually average between 5,000 and 5,500 ballots.

“Right now we have distributed 8,500 and 56 percent of them have been returned,” she said.

In Southfield, election officials had issued 7,448 ballots in recent weeks and 4,193 have been returned, city spokesman Michael Manion said Wednesday.

"Of the returned ballots 126 were spoiled," Manion said, adding officials were unable to calculate how many voters had recast their ballots.

In Pontiac, 32 absentee ballots were spoiled but the city was unable to say how many of those voters submitted a new ballot.