Problems created by WRITE-IN selection by voters on a Michigan ballot

This past Tuesday election day, I served as a credentialed Poll Challenger for the Michigan Democratic Party at a local precinct in Grand Rapids.

Before going further, let me say the team for Grand Rapids at this precinct were professional, dedicated and knew their stuff! The day went very smoothly. Given that Grand Rapids reported receiving 55,000 absentee ballots, turnout at the in-person voting was relatively light.

Now, on to WRITE-IN votes on ballots. I suggest the various municipal clerks tasked with managing elections as well as the Secretary of State, consider a serious voter education process. Keep in mind, my concern here is NOT about fraud or people not being able to exersize their votes. It is actually a means to inform voters so as to NOT create complications when ballots are tallied and also to not waste the time of dedicated volunteers working the polls.

Michigan uses paper ballots in which a voter fills in a bubble next to the name of the person for whom the voter wants to caste a vote. It is much like those bubbles on standardized tests we all took in school.

Now keep in mind that the ballots always leave room for a write it and sometimes more than one. For example, for County Prosecutor, only one person can win. If there were a Democrat and a Republican on the ticket, there would actually be a blank third line to accommodate a write in. On positions which the ballot says "Vote for not more than two" there would be two available blank lines to accommodate to possible other write-in options.

Once a ballot is completed by the voter (i.e. filling in all the bubbles desired) the ballot is walked over to the optical scanner and the voter slips it into the machine which scans all the bubbles and tallies the vote electronically. The talley is extracted later as three hard copies of paper and is also transmitted via secure wireless modem to, in our case, the Kent County Clerk’s Office and the City of Grand Rapids Clerk’s Office. The memory cards with the results are put in a sealed locked bag.

The door to the machine is opened under all witnesses and all the ballots are removed with an exception. All ballots scanned in by voters that do NOT include even ONE write-in bubble all fall into the general bin. They are pulled from the machine, stacked and placed in that precinct’s numbered tote which will later be sealed and taken to the clerk’s officy by two people- one each of the major political parties.

Once the bulk of the ballots are put in the tote, a lever is pulled releasing a small trap door, so to speak, in which ANY ballot which had at least ONE write-in vote cast, is collected. There were 25-30 in our machine. The poll workers and observers (me) all huddle around the ballots and begin reviewing them for write-in names to record and tally.

In our ballot stack we had write-ins like the following: "none of the above", Micky Mouse, 'no one’, Barak Obama was cast for Kent County Prosecutor, Bernie Sanders was written in the write-in section under President, and so on. A couple ballots, on the back non-partisan side had EVERY write-in bubble filled out. Apparently, they didn’t like the two names already there and cast a vote of protest for nobody by leaving the lines blank. But even if they had written in names- here is the problem. Out of our 25-30 ballots which had write-in bubbles cast, only two or three had a valid name which the poll workers could record and tally for official results. They were given a list of the valid names and looked ONLY for those names in the correct candidate position.

I quote the Michigan law below regarding write-ins and provide a link as well, but in summary: the only VALID names that can be tallied in the results are names of candidates who declared intent to ask people to write them in and who did so by the correct means and deadlines.

I realize voters think they are casting a protest, or sending a message, by filling in a bubble other than an actual candidate on the ballot - or putting in a name of a person they’d rather have, or sniping at a candidate they don’t like by writing in Mickey Mouse. But all a voter is really doing is creating more work and scrutiny for the poll workers who have to sift through these ballots looking for valid names. The six of us spent a half hour reviewing the front and back of those ballots which could have been done in a couple minutes had there only been the two or three valid write-in ballots in that side chute.

I voted absentee and really researched the judicial candidates. There were numerous positions in which the ballot said "vote for no more than two" and the two on the ballot were both Republicans and I refused to vote for them so I did not fill in ANY bubble under that court position and simply left all four bubbles empty.

Please respect your hardworking poll volunteers, many of whom were there at 6am and didn’t leave until after 9pm! ONLY vote for actual candidates already on the ballot or if you want to write in someone, make sure they registered with the state per the law cited below. You can find this information out by calling your local election clerk next time. If you don’t like the candidate(s) on the ballot the only real protest at that point is to just not cast a vote for that position at all.

Under Michigan Law, we find this:
DECLARATION OF INTENT REQUIREMENT
An individual who wishes to seek nomination or election to a federal,state, county, city, township, village or school office with write-in votes is required to file a Declaration of Intent with the appropriate election official by 4:00 p.m. on the second Friday preceding the election.
The local clerk is responsible for notifying the precinct board of any write-in candidates who filed a
Declaration of Intent by the filing deadline. 
A write-in vote cast for an individual who has not filed a Declaration of Intent does not count.
Similarly, a write-in vote cast for an individual who filed a Declaration of Intent does not count unless
the office for which the write-in vote was cast correspondsto the office identified on the Declaration
of Intent; if a partisan primary, a write-in vote cast for an individual who filed a Declaration of Intent
does not count unless the voter writes the candidate’s name on the correct office and party line on
the ballot. Write-in votes which do not count for the above reasons are not considered when
determining whether an “over vote” has occurred or whether a “crossover” vote has been cast at a
partisan primary.

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/sos/IV_Write-In_Candidates_265989_7.pdf

Cyclist, runner. Backpacking, kayaking. .Enjoy travel, love reading history. Congressional candidate in 2016. Anti-facist. Home chef.