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Township Clerk Arraigned After Ballot Mishap

Locked Election BoxMichigan Election Law (MEL) regulates every aspect of voting, including what happens to a ballot after it is cast. As one Michigan township clerk recently found out, if those rules are not closely followed, clerks and other election officials could be facing misdemeanor charges.

After a voter casts an absentee ballot, the city or township clerk is responsible for transferring the ballot to the board of inspectors to verify the legality of the vote by (1) checking that the person submitting the ballot is a registered voter, (2) matching the signature on the ballot to the voter registration record, and (3) ensuring the individual has not also voted in person. Legal ballots are placed in approved ballot containers to be transported to and counted at either the voter’s precinct or an absent voter counting board. Here, the issue was the clerk’s use of unapproved ballot containers.

Under the MEL, ballot containers must be made of metal, plastic, fiberglass, or other material that is resistant to tampering and must be capable of being sealed with a metal seal. MCL 168.24j. Using tamper-proof ballot boxes helps reduce the likelihood of an unauthorized person gaining access to or tampering with ballots before they are counted. The seal also helps preserve the chain of custody as the ballots travel from polling locations to counting boards and later to the Board of Canvassers. A clerk who uses or permits the use of an unapproved ballot container is guilty of a misdemeanor.

The issue arose at the Board of Canvassers’ meeting when the board discovered 1,300 ballots in a canvas bag, rather than a tamper-proof box. The canvas bag was sealed, but the container was unapproved and uncertified. As a result, the Board of Canvassers could not re-tabulate the absentee ballots.

Although the clerk allegedly did not personally place the ballots in the canvas bag, MEL makes her responsible for permitting election workers under her supervision to use a container that does not comply with MCL 168.24j. The clerk now faces up to 90 days in jail or a $500 fine if she is convicted.

If you have any questions regarding the election process, please reach out to a member of our election & campaign finance law team:

Categories: Alerts and Updates, Compliance

Photo of Laura J. Genovich
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practice focuses on bankruptcy, municipal law, collections, and trial-level and appeals litigation. In the bankruptcy arena, she represents primarily Chapter 7 trustees. Laura has handled a wide range of trial and appellate matters for individual and business clients and has appeared before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Michigan Court of Appeals, and the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Michigan, as well as Michigan circuit and district courts across the state.

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Cody is a member of the firm’s Business and Tax Practice Group and works in the Grand Rapids and Lansing offices. He works with clients on entity planning and formation, drafts commercial transaction documents, and provides counsel to clients on securities and tax issues. Cody is also a part of the firm’s Election and Campaign Finance Law Group. He provides advice to candidates, their committees, and public bodies on Michigan campaign finance and election law issues.

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