Opinion: Michigan's election security is at risk

Ruth Johnson

Michigan has 1,520 local clerks and 83 county clerks that do a great job running our elections in a nonpartisan manner. They are hardworking people who take pride in their jobs. But, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is making their jobs harder in an important election year. She is also not working with the people’s elected representatives in the House and Senate, but instead making changes on her own that go against current law.  

The secretary of state launched a new “online” absentee ballot application. Michigan law says that voters have to sign absentee ballot applications. The new “online” application does not require this. That means clerks cannot check if the signature matches voter registration records.

The secretary of state’s own manual states that clerks should check the signature on absentee ballot applications to verify a voter’s identity. But people are not required to sign the online applications.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson mailed out absentee ballot applications to all of the state's 7.7 million registered voters during May and June 2020.

One of the clerks who testified at the Senate Elections committee hearing I held said that she will not accept the new online applications. That is because she said the lack of a signature means there is no verification, which the law requires. 

The secretary of state made misleading statements in a radio interview. She said that the state got signature matching software for all of the clerks in Michigan to use. It was supposed to help them compare signatures on the rapidly increasing paper applications they receive. But in submitted testimony, a clerk who heard this interview contacted the department and was told by the state elections director that the state doesn't have access to the software.

Voting by mail for anyone was made legal in 2018. The secretary of state also used $4.5 million of taxpayer money that was supposed to be for coronavirus costs to mail out over 7 million absentee ballot applications. We have many examples where these applications were sent to people who are dead, moved out of the state, or are non-citizens. This money should have been used to get more high-speed counters, personal protective equipment and other supplies for local clerks running our elections.

There are two court cases and the secretary of state’s own manual tells clerks they are not supposed to send out absentee ballot applications without a request from a voter. The secretary of state hijacked the local clerks’ job to mail out absentee ballot applications and used a flawed list to send them to people who did not request them including thousands that are dead, have moved or are non-citizens.

The secretary of state has said that the mailing will help to clean up the qualified voter file, but this is not accurate. The post office delivers the mail to the address unless it has been informed in the last 12 months to forward it to a different state or country. We have heard stories of non-citizens and others sending back applications, and then getting them right back in the mail. She is methodically stripping integrity out of our elections.

State Sen. Ruth Johnson

There is no way to know if people are voting in multiple states. It has always been the job of Michigan’s local clerks to send out absentee ballot applications and conduct elections following the laws. The people of Michigan deserve public input and legislative oversight for election changes to ensure safe and fair elections with integrity. 

Local clerks have done a great job conducting elections for decades, and any qualified voter can vote by all mail under Michigan law. The secretary of state’s actions are contrary to safe and secure elections in Michigan. These unilateral decisions without input from the public or the legislative branch of government are dangerous for the security of our elections.

State Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, chairs the Senate Elections Committee and served as Michigan secretary of state from 2011-18.