Group drops challenge to Detroit voter rolls after dead, duplicate registrants removed

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

An advocacy group suing the city of Detroit for inaccurate voter rolls is dropping its lawsuit after the city made inroads into fixing the issues raised by the Indiana nonprofit. 

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, which filed its original suit in Detroit federal court in December, dropped it Tuesday after discovering Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey and Elections Director George Azzouz had taken “remedial action.”

“Defendants have taken action on the list of likely deceased registrants provided by the plaintiff,” according to a Monday motion to dismiss the suit. “Further, almost all of the duplicate registrations that Plaintiff brought to defendants’ attention have been corrected.”

An advocacy group suing the city of Detroit for inaccurate voter rolls is dropping its suit after the city made inroads into fixing the issue.

Winfrey said Wednesday Detroit's updated voter rolls were largely a result of regular maintenance, but her office did look into a few specific claims made in the lawsuit, including allegations that one registrant was born in 1823.

“We did do some extra digging because that is ridiculous and we wanted to see what was going on there,” Winfrey said. “The conclusion was that that was a typographical error.”

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, an Indiana-based nonprofit, had contended the city violated the National Voter Registration Act by listing long-dead residents and keeping multiple registrations for the same people. 

The group said it had studied and sought to resolve Detroit’s voting roll issues for two years, but the errors were “brushed aside.” Among the ignored findings were allegations that Detroit had a 106% voter registration rate, had 2,503 dead registrants, 4,788 duplicate or triplicate registrants and 16,465 registrants whose date of registration was missing from city records. 

 “This case wasn’t complicated,” Foundation President J. Christian Adams said. “The city of Detroit could have started to fix these problems before litigation, but didn’t. Other jurisdictions should take note — if you don’t act on solid data that your voter rolls are corrupted with dead and duplicate registrations, you will be sued.” 

The city confirmed it had fixed the issues in “overdue discovery responses” filed June 25 and containing the current voter roll. 

“The voter rolls reveal extensive evidence of remedial action related to the data provide by the plaintiff to the defendants,” according to the foundation's Monday motion. 

The group, Winfrey said, “just wasn’t aware of what we do on a regular basis.”

“We purge based on death records from the county that we get monthly, from the Social Security office that we get monthly, from mailings that come back undeliverable,” she said. 

The resolved suit comes as Republicans have raised concerns over absentee ballot applications sent to deceased or moved individuals in a May mass mailing to Michigan’s 7.7 million registered voters by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. 

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, asked Benson in a Tuesday letter for more information on the “inaccurate distribution” of absentee ballot applications, about which he has received complaints from constituents.

“In one case, my staff received a complaint from a household of two individuals who were delivered nine absentee ballot applications,” Walberg wrote. “In another case, a man received an application after he had successfully removed himself from all voter registrations.”

Benson’s office said individuals who receive incorrect mailings should return them to her office marked as deceased or moved. In the long run, her office said, the returned applications will help to identify individuals who should be removed from the state’s voting rolls. 

The Secretary of State's office also has maintained the mailings will not lead to voter fraud since signature verification is required on both the ballot application and actual ballot.