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Unlawful re-registrations during 2022 election: Ann Arbor (Part 3)

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

This article is Part 3 of a series of investigative reports by Michigan Fair Elections following the Nov. 8, 2022, election.


by Bill Richardson and Patrice Johnson | April 28, 2023



Try to re-register to vote or obtain an absentee ballot in the wrong precinct within two weeks of an election, and your friendly local clerk will send you packing to your correct precinct. Michigan law closes the door to re-registrations 14 days before Election Day, and municipal and township clerks across the state take care to abide by the law—all clerks, apparently, except the Ann Arbor City clerk.


According to official state records, the Ann Arbor City clerk ignored the law regarding re-registrations of voters within the same jurisdiction in at least 180 instances on Election Day and into the early hours of the day after Election Day. On Nov. 8 and 9, 2022, more than 180 City of Ann Arbor registrants were re-registered and voted. Roughly 150 of these were also allowed to vote absentee at two University of Michigan campus satellite offices, which is a further violation of election law.


“We’re talking 180 unlawful re-registrations on Election Day alone,” Patrice Johnson, chair of MFE, said. “It’s unfair to voters when other clerks across the state abide by the law, but the Ann Arbor clerk ignores it.” She said MFE investigators discovered the apparent violations while analyzing official state records obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).


The problem with unlawful re-registrations


To re-register or obtain an absentee ballot within the same jurisdiction violates Michigan Compiled Law, and for good reason. Prohibiting re-registrations within two weeks of Election Day reduces the risk of double voting. The law helps ensure that each precinct--size-limited by statute to no more than 2,999 registered voters--is able to offer convenient in-person voting and reasonably short lines. Plus, the two-week cutoff provides breathing room for clerks to finalize their recordkeeping going into elections.


"To be clear, we want everyone who's eligible to vote," Johnson said. "But everyone should be treated fairly. No one should be given preference at the expense of others, no one should be exploited or have their vote suppressed. The integrity of our elections must be preserved, and laws are designed to do that."


Voter suppression: These unlawful actions suppressed voting


“When the clerk failed to refer these voters to their proper precincts, the violation of law caused massive delays and created long lines that were totally unnecessary,” Bill Richardson, the lead investigator, said.


“Eligible voters who watched the local news or came to vote saw the hours’ long lines. They had to feel discouraged and question whether the wait was worth it. Who knows how many gave up and went home. This amounts to voter suppression.”


MLive, Nov. 9, 2022

Hundreds of University of Michigan students waited in line for hours to register to vote at the Ann Arbor city clerk's satellite office at the UM Museum of Art on Election Night, Nov. 8, 2022. Many students huddled in donated blankets and were served donated pizza and hot cocoa as temperatures dropped below 45 degrees.


Meet the University of Michigan student who waited in line for 6 hours to register to vote, cast ballot

Final vote cast in Ann Arbor at 2 a.m. morning after Election Day

New voters waited hours to register and cast their vote.






How great an inconvenience?


Many of the election day re-registrants registered to vote absentee on campus when they could have--and should have according to the law--voted in person or requested an absentee ballot from their existing precinct.


In some cases, the students' legally authorized polling site was located only a few blocks from where they re-registered on campus. “The Curious Case of ‘Student X” below maps the couple of blocks one re-registrant needed to walk to vote in the lawful precinct.



Registering to vote takes a few minutes. One could argue that these unlawful re-registrations clogged up the lines and imposed a disservice on many of these students who waited in line up to six hours to re-register and vote. The lines needed not be so long, especially considering the minor inconvenience of walking a short distance to the appropriate precinct polling location on a balmy Fall evening.


The election officials were requited by law to direct previously registered Ann Arbor residents to their nearby and appropriate precincts to vote. When the officials failed to abide by the law, they cost the students their valuable time and effectively denied many their right to vote.


As importantly, how many legally registered voters showed up to vote and then turned away at the sight of long lines?


The number of suppressed votes is impossible to quantify. But voter suppression undoubtedly occurred.



Ann Arbor Clerk ignorance? Hardly.


At the time of the November 2022 election, Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry had served more than 17 years, since April 2005, as Ann Arbor City Clerk. According to the Clerk's 2019 Fiscal Report published on the A2gov.org website, Clerk Beaudry "is a Master Municipal Clerk, a Certified Michigan Municipal Clerk, and holds a Master of Public Administration specializing in local government management."

Michigan clerks understand and enforce the law regarding re-registrations. It is virtually impossible that a clerk of Beaudry's experience and stature could have been unaware of this law, yet reporter Ryan Stanton of the Ann Arbor News, wrote:


Ann Arbor City Clerk Jackie Beaudry confirmed shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday there were hours-long lines at both the city’s satellite offices on the UM campus, where the city has been processing same-day registration requests from students. Wait times are estimated to be up to four hours.

In fact, her own office's website, while promoting its two new campus City Clerk Satellite Offices, displayed multiple references to the legal requirement for previously registered Ann Arbor voters to vote in their own precincts.


*ELECTION DAY--Open for voters registering to vote on election day. If you are already registered and would like to vote on election day, you must go to your assigned polling location.

Beaudry was appointed to the Bipartisan Policy Center’s national task force on voter registration and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s election modernization advisory committee.

"Students and the university can hardly be faulted for not knowing or following election law. They were the victims of the clerk's failures," Johnson said.

In light of the current majority party’s push to consolidate Michigan voting to the county level, one has to wonder if the creation of unnecessarily long lines was designed to create a photo opportunity to give the impression of precinct dysfunction.


The law is clear.


Michigan Compiled Law (MC) 168.497(2) applies to voters who vote in person:


(2) An individual who is not registered to vote but possesses the qualifications of an elector as provided in section 492 or an individual who is not registered to vote in the city or township in which he or she is registering to vote may apply for registration in person at the city or township clerk's office of the city or township in which he or she resides from the fourteenth day before an election and continuing through the day of the election. (http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?mcl-168-497)


MCL 168.761(3) applies to voters who vote absentee:


MCL 168.761 (3) … only an individual who is not a registered elector, or an individual who is not registered to vote in the city or township in which he or she is registering to vote, and who registers to vote on election day in person with the clerk of the city or township in which the individual resides may apply for and complete an absent voter ballot in person at the clerk's office on election day. (http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?mcl-168-761)


Prior offenses


Earlier in April 2023, MFE announced that the City of Ann Arbor and University of Michigan violated election law in two other significant ways. On April 4, MFE released a report of at least 600 illegally cast and counted absentee ballots, 120 of which were cast on November 9 and counted after the close of the November 8 election. See DAY LATE: Ann Arbor, MI, counts 120 absentee ballots cast on Nov. 9 in Nov. 8 election


On April 11, MFE reported that the city clerk demonstrated bias in the placement of its two satellite offices on campus, favoring students and discriminating against other demographic groups, including senior citizens. BIAS: Ann Arbor discriminates in favor of student voters at expense of all other groups (Part 2)


Recommendations


The past election serves as models for change going forward. Those who committed unlawful acts should be held accountable, and steps should be taken to ensure these unlawful acts never recur.


The current City Clerk's Office website declares that it “is committed to maintaining the integrity of city government in the City of Ann Arbor…through the conduct of fair and democratic elections….” Going forward, if lawful administration of election law is restored, perhaps the clerk should revise the sentence to read that the City Clerk's Office "is committed to maintaining the integrity of city government in the City of Ann Arbor…through the conduct of fair and lawful elections.”


Next: Part 4, “‘pay for play’ occurred in Ann Arbor with the Washtenaw Democratic party buying pizzas to encourage students to stay in line at the clerk’s satellite offices.”



by Anna Fifelski and Kristina Zheng November 9, 2022


As temperatures dropped to the low 40s, over a hundred students and local residents stood in line — bundled up with blankets and cradling cups of hot chocolate — outside the University of Michigan Museum of Art polling station for hours after it officially closed at 8 p.m.


The Ann Arbor City Clerk Satellite Office at UMMA opened on Sept. 27 and remained open until the last voter of the night, Rackham student Erik Pedersen, cast his ballot at 2:05 a.m. after waiting in line for 6 hours.



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