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Clean Voter Rolls Critical to Local Elections

Updated: Aug 28, 2023



By Anne Hill | August 22, 2022


Former East Lansing officials remain on the state’s official voter rolls years after leaving office and moving out of state. A former fire chief retired June 11, 2021, sold his home in East Lansing’s prestigious Eagle Eyeneighborhood, and moved to Arizona. Mr. Talifarro returned to East Lansing in February 2023 to serve as Interim City Manager, yet the Qualified Voter file (QVF) as of June 2023, shows his address as being his former home at Eagle Eye.


Former Mayor, Aaron Stephens, East Lansing’s youngest mayor at 25 years of age, resigned in August 2021 prior to finishing his term to pursue a master’s degree at Harvard. Mr. Stephens moved from his apartment in East Lansing’s Stonehedge Apartments, yet still remains on the QVF at that same apartment number.


The Qualified Voter File is a list of individuals registered to vote, their unique voter ID number, name, address, apartment or lot number, city, zip code, school district, and other information for each qualified citizen registrant. Each citizen who is eligible to vote and has submitted an application to the Secretary of State’s office, local clerk, or a state agency, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and others, is included on the state’s official list. Having clean voter rolls is important to ensure that each eligible registrant casts not more than one ballot.


This is critical, especially for local elections in which it is not uncommon to have less than 30 votes determine a winner or loser. This was the case in East Lansing in 2019, with three open city council seats. Candidates with the highest and second highest number of votes well outpaced the rest of the field. Mark Meadows had the third highest number of votes at 1,951 and Erik Altman was locked out of a council seat when he was shy by two, with 1,949 votes.


In May 2022, a study by Pure Integrity Michigan Elections showed that of East Lansing’s 25,545 registrants listed on the November 2020 QVF, 9,033—a full 35%—were ineligible and should not have been listed as qualified voters. The vast majority of ineligible listings were students who had previously attended Michigan State University and had since left the city or state.


Unfortunately, as a new class of students arrives and another leaves every year, the issue of inaccurate voter rolls is exacerbated in university and college towns. In MSU’s case, this ebb and flow of students amounts to roughly 8,000 coming in and 8,000 leaving each year. This figure does not include students who move from one address to another, such as from a dorm to an apartment. Nor does it include moves associated with non-student residents.


However, all communities deserve, and are required by law, to have clean voter rolls.

While it is true that elections clerks in more transient communities may require more resources, it is also true that the secretary of state, the office in charge of elections, is adding to the clerks’ burden. On numerous occasions, SOS Jocelyn Benson’s office has issued directives that run counter to Michigan compiled law.


One tug of war exists around the question of when to remove voters from the rolls. Henry Ringlerver, 126 years of age, is an example. Despite the fact that Mr. Ringlerver was first registered to vote in 2008 at the age of 111 and has not voted, his status is marked “V” for verify. He remains on the QVF for the entire roll off process, which entails a countdown clock ticking through two federal election periods of four-plus years.


Home vs. mailing address


A registrant must list their place of residence as their address. If the registrant receives their mail from a P.O. Box, they must list this information as an Alternate Mailing Address. As of June 2023, there were 10 registrants listed with a residence address of the East Lansing Post Office. Nine of these registrants were on the QVF with this post office address as of the November 2020 election. In the November 2022 election, two of these registrants voted in person. One voted absentee.

Residents on the voter rolls listed as residing at the U.S. Post Office at 1140 Abbot Rd

East Lansing, MI 48823


The 2023 calendar year so far has ushered in a plethora of new election laws, and our clerks have responsibility to administer them. Some of these laws appear to be inconsistent between state election law, the state Constitution, federal election law, and the U.S. Constitution. This means clerks and their staff will need to spend considerable time learning the details and impacts of these changes in law. Immersing themselves in this learning cuts into the time available for normal processes that require researching, issuing the required paperwork and communications, and following up to determine if a registrant (or duplicate) should be removed or if multiple IDs for the same person should be merged.


Many local clerks, faced with this hyper-challenging landscape, have decided to step down from office or not seek re-election. One has to wonder whether these pressures are, in whole or in part, deliberately orchestrated, since those seeking to influence election outcomes stand to benefit from the impending loss of institutional knowledge.


 

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