Why Won’t Michigan’s Secretary of State Purge Dead From Voter Rolls?

This is an example of the bizarre views of controversialJocelyn Benson, Secretary of State for Michigan, is a federal judge. turned down Benson’s motion to throw out a lawsuit filed against her for refusing to remove almost 26,000 dead voters from Michigan voters rolls. 

In mid-September 2020, the Public Interest Legal Foundation (of which I am a board member) sent Benson a list of all of the deceased registrants who remained on the state’s voter rolls less than two months before the presidential election.

Nearly 26,000 Michigan residents were dead over the past five years. 23,663 were dead for at most five years. 17,479 had died for at minimum a decade. Surprisingly, 3,956 were dead for at-least two decades. Yet, they were still listed as voters.

That shows just how inadequate Michigan’s procedures are for safeguarding the accuracy of its voter list. 

To ensure that Benson received a correct list, the Public Interest Legal Foundation had run a detailed matching program. As federal Judge Jane Beckering, an appointee of President Joe Biden, pointed out in her order, the legal foundation had compared the names of registered voters with the Social Security Administration’s Death Index and “matched full names, full dates of birth, Social Security Numbers, and credit address history information.”

Benson refused to verify the information or remove those voters from the rolls. She was required to do this under the law. Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act, which according to Beckering, requires election officials to remove “registrants from the voter registration roll because of the death of the registrant or a change in the residence of the registrant.”

Transparency is also required by law. Election officials must make available for public inspection and copying all records “concerning the implementation” of its voter registration activities and, in particular, its procedures for maintaining the accuracy of the lists, such as removing deceased voters. 

Yet when the Public Interest Legal Foundation  requested that Benson allow “public inspection or provide copies” of its records regarding the removal of dead voters, she responded that no such inspection would be allowed and no copies would be provided because her “offices were closed to the public due to the pandemic.” 

According to the judge, the legal foundation sent multiple letters to Benson trying to get those records before it finally was forced to file suit because Benson not only refused to comply with the law, but also refused to take any action to use the detailed information provided by the foundation to clean up the state’s voter rolls. 

Her only response was that Michigan already had a general program in place that makes “reasonable efforts” to removed deceased voters from the rolls.  She apparently doesn’t care that her “reasonable efforts” are obviously not working. 

Benson filed a motion in dismissal to end the case. A spokesperson for Benson called the lawsuit an attempt at “undermine American democracy.” 

Apparently, Michigan’s secretary of state thinks that trying to prevent someone from using a deceased voter’s registration to fraudulently vote “undermines” democracy.

Nothing could be further away from the truth. The voter register list is an essential document for election integrity. It tells election officials who can vote. Accurate voter rolls decrease the chance of fraud and give voters confidence that their elections are honest.

Benson made the unfounded claim in her motion for dismissal that the Public Interest Legal Foundation had failed to meet the notice requirement of National Voter Registration Act. This law requires that election officials receive written notice of a possible violation of the law before a lawsuit can be filed. 

The court refused to dismiss the lawsuit due to the numerous letters Benson received from legal foundation, which included a detailed list and description of the method used to create the list. 

The judge held that the legal foundation had more than satisfied the notice requirement since it had not only “set forth the manner in which Secretary Benson has purportedly failed to comply with the NVRA’s list maintenance requirements,” but also “clearly communicated that it would commence litigation if the purported violation was not timely addressed.”

In fact, notice is required by the National Voter Registration Act for 90 days before you can file suit. Benson had more time to act after the legal foundation waited 411 days. But instead of trying to fix the problem, Benson failed to do anything about it and continues to spend taxpayer dollars and resources on fighting the lawsuit and defending the state’s inadequate list-maintenance program.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the case. However, it is a first win for election integrity in Michigan. The case will proceed and Benson will have the task of defending Benson’s refusal not to comply with federal laws.

Michigan residents should be worried that their secretary-of-state is trying to prevent the removal or registration of deceased voters. Maintaining accurate and clean voter rolls is an important part her job. Election officials shouldn’t be sued to enforce this basic job requirement.

Hopefully, this lawsuit will be successful in finally getting Benson to remove the nearly 26,000 deceased registrants who shouldn’t be on Michigan’s voter rolls.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation in Pennsylvania filed a similar lawsuit in 2021. It was eventually dismissed. commonwealth agreed to settle the case and remove the deceased registrantsIts voter rolls.  As in Michigan, organizations like legal foundations shouldn’t need to file a suit to get the state to do what it was supposed to be doing.

Michigan is a battleground and often holds close elections. Donald Trump won the state in 2016, by winning by a little more than 11,000 votes. Michigan local elections are often decided in a handful of votes.

We should all agree that we don’t want dead people on the voter rolls. This would allow someone to vote illegally in their name.

This should not be a political issue. One illegal vote is enough.

The good news? Michigan may be one step closer to solving this problem because of this court decision, regardless of whether Benson wants it or not.

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