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Republican voter sues Benson, local clerks alleging suspect voter registration increases

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A Republican operative has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging a suspiciously high number of voters registered in 16 Michigan counties. 

Tony Daunt filed the lawsuit Tuesday in the Western U.S. District Court against Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, elections director Jonathan Brater and the clerks managing voter rolls in the 16 counties. Daunt argued the state and local clerks were failing to eliminate dead or moved individuals from their qualified voter lists, perhaps contributing to higher voter registration rates. 

The Michigan city of Pleasant Ridge invites residents to vote in the March 10, 2020 presidential primary election.

Leelanau County has more registered voters than adult citizens, said Daunt, executive director for the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund. And 15 other counties have registration rates that are more than 90% of their residents over the age 18, a number that “far eclipses the national and statewide voter registration rate in recent elections.”

“Because defendants do not maintain accurate voter rolls, Daunt reasonably fears that ineligible voters can and do vote in Michigan elections,” the lawsuit said. “Those votes will dilute his legitimate vote. And Michigan’s inaccurate rolls undermine Daunt’s confidence in the integrity of Michigan elections, which also burdens his right to vote.”

Benson’s office defended the state’s voter registration system as one of the best in the country. Spokesman Jake Rollow noted there is a federally required delay before some registration records are canceled for issues such as change of residence, but that “has never been credibly linked to illegal voting on any substantial scale.”

“The suit seeks to gain media attention using debunked claims and bad statistics to delegitimize our elections,” Rollow said in a statement. “It compares old census data and registration numbers that make no attempt to distinguish between active and inactive registration, and asserts the false notion that voter registration rates should be low.” 

Daunt asked the court to find the state in violation of the National Voter Registration Act and require the state to fix the shortcomings before the November election.

Daunt consulted the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014-18 American Community Service in researching the populations for each of the counties, according to the suit. 

Using that data, he found Leelanau County had a 102% registration rate, while the counties of Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Iosco, Kalkaska, Keweenaw, Livingston, Mackinac, Oakland, Otsego, Roscommon and Washtenaw had rates above 90%.

The U.S. Census Bureau, by comparison, provides data indicating nationwide 66.9% of voting-age citizens were registered for the November 2018 elections. 

“Thus, these 16 counties are significant outliers,” the suit said. “…the only plausible explanation for these discrepancies is substandard list maintenance.”

Daunt said he notified Benson and Brater of the problems with those counties in February, but the office failed to respond.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com