Culling dead individuals from Michigan voter rolls is a pretty basic task for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Now Judge Jane M. Beckering, an appointee of President Joe Biden, has rejected Benson’s demand to dismiss a lawsuit filed against her claiming she refused to remove almost 26,000 dead individuals from the state’s voter rolls.
The lawsuit claims that six weeks before the November 2020 presidential election, Benson was sent a detailed, carefully vetted list of deceased Michigan residents who were still registered to vote: 23,663 of these registered voters had been dead for at least five years, 17,479 had been dead for at least a decade and 3,956 had been dead for at least two decades. This list, according to the lawsuit, exposes the flaws in Michigan’s procedures for ensuring the accuracy of its voter list.
The list of deceased voters was prepared by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (of which I am a board member), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring both access and security in the election process. PILF carefully matched the Michigan voter list, which it had obtained from Benson’s office, with the Social Security Administration’s Death Index.
PILF “matched full names, full dates of birth, Social Security Numbers, and credit address history information,” according to Judge Beckering.
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But Benson refused to remove these dead voters from the rolls after her office received the list from PILF.
As the judge explained, Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act requires election officials to remove deceased voters from the registration list, and the typical deadline to make changes 90 days before an election does not apply to deceased voters.
Moreover, Benson refused to provide PILF with access to records about the procedures her office uses to maintain the accuracy of the voter lists, which is also a violation of the NVRA which allows for "public inspection" of "all records concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters."
That federal requirement is intended to guarantee transparency in the election process, a necessary ingredient for honest elections.
After trying to get cooperation from Benson for almost a year and a half, PILF was finally forced to sue her.
Instead of simply settling the lawsuit, Benson filed a motion to dismiss the case. Her spokeswoman bizarrely called the lawsuit an attempt to “undermine American democracy.”
Benson claimed that Michigan already had a general program in place that makes “reasonable efforts” to remove deceased voters from the rolls, so there was no need to review or investigate the detailed information provided by PILF, which her office also claimed the Foundation would not substantiate.
But it seems any competent election official would want to find out why the “general program” missed as many as 26,000 dead voters on PILF's list, remove them and fix any possible defects in the current “general program” that may have missed finding them.
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Having an accurate, up-to-date voter registration list is essential to informing election officials who is eligible to vote and is also important to maintaining voter confidence in the honesty of their elections.
The judge’s refusal to throw out the lawsuit is not the end of the case. But it is an initial win for honest elections in Michigan since the case will go forward.
Hopefully, this lawsuit will succeed in getting Benson to take a closer look at Michigan's voter rolls and put in better procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
This is not a partisan issue. We do not want deceased individuals on the voter rolls, providing the opportunity for someone to cast illegal ballots in their name and causing other administrative problems for election officials.
That seems like straightforward common sense.
This piece originally appeared in The Detroit News