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Securing Your VoteSecurity is at the heart of what we do. Here are some ways that Ottawa County makes sure elections are secure while making sure that every vote counts.
Table of Contents
Before Election Day
What to do if you receive an absentee ballot application for someone who no longer lives at your address:
Our qualified voter list is constantly changing. Despite our best efforts, residents don't always tell us when they move, and death notices may lag causing inaccuracies to develop occasionally . If you receive an application for someone who no longer lives at your address, please mark the envelope as "Not at this address" or "Return to Sender" and place it back in the mail. This will assist us in the process of updating our voter list .
Once information is received that a voter may no longer reside at the address listed on their voter record, federal Law, under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), requires election officials to follow a multi-step voter notification process before the voter registration can be cancelled. Election officials at the county and local level use a number of tools to keep their lists accurate. Due to Michigan connecting their driver's license file to their qualified voter file, when a voter changes their address on their Michigan driver's license, their voter registration address is automatically updated increasing record accuracy. Election officials also utilize the National Change of Address (NCOA) database through the U.S. Postal Service to verify if someone has moved. Additionally, in 2019 Michigan became a member of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a 30-state coalition that compares voter registration data to improve the accuracy of each state's voter registration database. If a Michigan voter registers to vote in another state, local election officials are notified and the voter is removed from Michigan's rolls.
An application for an absentee ballot must be submitted to the correct city or township clerk before a ballot can be issued to a voter. The application must include a signature that matches the voter's signature on file in order to issue a ballot. Forging someone else's signature or providing other false information on an application for an absentee ballot is a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.00 or imprisonment for up to 5 years, or both.
Why do I have to apply for an absentee ballot?
Absentee ballot applications are used to ensure that the voter requesting a ballot by mail is who they say they are. The application collects personal information and requires a signature that is verified using voter registration data in the Qualified Voter File. By sending absentee applications, local clerks are able to update voter information to make sure that when it's time to send ballots, those ballots are only sent to verified voters.
What's the difference between an absentee ballot and a ballot issued in a precinct?
The only difference is that voters can vote in the comfort of their home instead of a precinct. Absentee ballots are the exact same paper ballot as a ballot issued in a precinct. Absentee ballots are also run through a tabulator on Election Day and are stored in the same secure containers as ballots issued in a precinct.
What happens to my ballot after I turn it in?
When your local clerk receives your ballot, they scan in the envelope, verify your signature, mark your ballot as received, and store your ballot in a secure location for Election Day. Your absentee ballot envelope is not opened until Election Day, when it is counted by the Absent Voter Counting Board. When your ballot envelope is opened on Election Day, it is separated from the envelope inside of a secrecy sleeve so that all votes remain secret.
How do I know my ballot won't get lost in the mail?
In 2019, the Secretary of State's office, in partnership with USPS, redesigned absentee ballot envelopes to improve the flow of envelopes in the mail. All absentee ballot envelopes are color coordinated and have specific markings on them to help ensure envelopes do not get lost. Any voter can track their ballot status at mi.gov/vote. Voters can also turn in their absentee ballot in-person or at your local clerk's drop box.
Where does my ballot come from?
Our office programs and generates all ballots using equipment that is not and can never be connected to the internet.
What technology is used to create our ballots?
Our office upgraded our ballot tabulators and ballot creation software in 2017. Our hardware and software provider is Hart InterCivic, a company based in Austin, Texas. The equipment that we use has been certified at both the state and federal level, and our ballot creation equipment is never connected to the internet.
Why is the ballot arranged that way that it is?
All ballots must be approved by the Michigan Bureau of Elections in order to ensure that the ballot meets the state's required formatting. All candidates must appear on the ballot in political party order. Party order is based on votes received for candidates for Secretary of State. In 2020, that party order is:
- Democratic Party
- Republican Party
- Minor parties in order of votes cast for Secretary of State
Candidates in nonpartisan contests appear on the ballot in alphabetical order. However, candidates in these contests are rotated by precinct, so each candidate has an equal opportunity of appearing at the top of the contest.
Registering to Vote
How is voter registration data maintained?
Voter registration data is stored in the Qualified Voter File, a secure system managed by the Bureau of Elections in the Secretary of State's office. Election officials can access this data with a personal login and two factor authentication. This information is updated every time a voter's information changes in the state's drivers' license file, or when a voter dies based on county and Social Security Administration records.
How do I know the machine tallies my vote correctly?
All ballot tabulators are rigorously tested prior to each election. These tests are conducted in accordance with the State of Michigan’s standards for logic and accuracy testing, and the results must follow a predetermined set of votes including ensuring that equipment can identify common errors and mis-marking of ballots. Testing must be performed on every voting machine used in the election, and once the testing is complete, the equipment is sealed and seal numbers are recorded in multiple places. All testing is open to the public, and required to be published prior to the test dates and times. An example test at Robinson Township can be seen below. To see more tests from the May 5, 2020 Election, visit our Facebook page.
Who are the people who work the election?
Election workers in Michigan are known as "election inspectors". These workers are neighbors in your community who give their time for a small compensation in order to ensure an effective election at the local level. They are hired by each city and township clerk and must meet several requirements before working in an election:
- Election inspectors must first submit an application, and declare a political party. Every precinct must have bipartisan representation from at least one Democratic and one Republican inspector. Inspectors who represent minor parties may also serve at the polls, so long as the two major parties are also represented.
- Election inspectors must be registered to vote in Michigan. Inspectors can work anywhere in the state, and do not have to serve in the communities in which they live, though many do. Michigan residents who are 16 and 17 years old, and therefore too young to be registered to vote, may also work as election inspectors on a limited basis.
- All election inspectors in the county must receive training and certification every two years. This training must cover all laws and procedures that are required for Election Day operations.
How do I become an election inspector?
During Election Day
What happens to my absentee ballot on Election Day?
Absentee ballots follow a strict set of procedures in order to maintain voter privacy while ensuring the security of the election. Every ballot must be returned in a signed envelope, and that signature is verified against the voter's signature on file.
The ballot envelopes can be opened after 7am on Election Day. When election inspectors open the ballot envelopes, they first remove the ballot from the envelope while the ballot is still enclosed in a secrecy sleeve. The numbered ballot stubs are then removed from the ballots to keep each ballot anonymous. The ballots are then stacked and tabulated. The ballot envelopes and ballots are kept for 22 months after each federal election, and these documents can be used to make sure that the number of ballots cast match the number of voters in each precinct.
How do I know my vote won't be tampered with or changed?
Absentee ballot envelopes are not opened until Election Day. The envelope is then opened on Election Day by members of the Absent Voter Counting Board, which is composed of a minimum of three workers who must be of differing political parties. The ballot is left in the secrecy envelope until it is tabulated.
Absent Voter Counting Boards are open to "poll challengers" from political parties or interest groups, who are able to independently view all activities of the Counting Board. Challengers are sequestered in the room with the Absent Voter Counting Board until after the polls have closed.
What prevents someone from voting in-person on Election Day and absentee before the election?
Any request for an absentee ballot is marked in the voter’s file in the Qualified Voter File. On Election Day, any request for a ballot at the precinct is checked in the Poll Book. Data from the Poll Book comes from the Qualified Voter File. If a voter has already requested an absentee ballot, but has not returned the ballot, they must surrender the ballot at the precinct in order to be issued a ballot in the precinct.
Why do we use paper ballots?
Every voter in Michigan (like in most states across the country) marks their votes on a paper ballot. While there are some advantages to using ballot marking devices or other electronic devices, paper gives voters more and better options for casting their ballots securely. If there is any question about the accuracy of an election, we have a paper record that shows exactly which ballots were tabulated.
Paper ballots also allow local clerks more flexibility. Since we use the same paper ballots for absentee voters as we use in the precinct, clerks can more easily adjust to changes in the rate of absentee or in person voting.
Is Same-Day Registration secure?
Every voter has the right to register to vote on Election Day. In order to register to vote on Election Day, voters must go to their local city or township clerk's office. By going to the clerk's office, local clerks can verify a voter's information, and instantly update the state's Qualified Voter File to make sure that voters can only register once on Election Day. The state's voter database only allows voters to register at one location. Voters must also show a drivers' license or state ID in order to register to vote and receive a ballot on Election Day.
Why do I have to provide an ID or sign an affidavit before I can receive a ballot?
Michigan law requires all voters who vote in a precinct to show a state or federal photo ID if they have one with them, or sign an affidavit if they do not, in order to receive a ballot. Providing a drivers' license or state ID allows election inspectors to pull up your information more quickly and accurately. When your drivers' license is swiped at a precinct, the correct voter information is automatically populated in the laptop at the precinct. However, your ID does not need to be swiped in order to pull up your voter data. Election inspectors can simply start typing your last name into the poll book to pull up your voter record. Note: a photo ID is NOT required in order to cast a ballot, but you will have to sign an affidavit instead of presenting an ID if you do not have an ID with you.
Voters who receive an absentee ballot by mail must have registered to vote using a drivers' license or social security number in order to receive a regular absentee ballot. These voters must also sign both an application and the ballot envelope, and these signatures are verified prior to the ballots being counted.
After Election Day
What happens after the polls close?
The polls are closed at 8pm on Election Day (Note: anyone still in line at 8pm may cast a ballot). After 8pm, the polls may be closed on the ballot tabulator. When the polls are closed, the tabulator immediately prints election results for that machine on a receipt tape. After that tape prints, the tabulator transmits results to the county, and all results for the county are accumulated and totaled centrally.
Once the results have been reported, the election inspectors in the precinct carefully seal up every ballot, and deliver all ballots and voting materials to the local clerk's office. Once the results have been reported, the election inspectors in the precinct carefully seal up all ballots and other voting materials and deliver them to the local clerk’s office. Materials must be delivered to the local clerk by a Republican and Democratic election inspector, and never by a single individual.
How are results reported on election night?
Unofficial results are reported online after each election. These results are electronically transmitted to our office using a secure, encrypted cellular connection immediately after the polls close. This data is for informational purposes only. Official results are not transmitted electronically, and are instead read manually from media installed in each ballot tabulator that was never connected to the internet.
How are election results certified?
All election results are certified by a bipartisan, independent board of county canvassers. This board has four members (two Democrats and two Republicans), and this board verifies that the number of ballots cast matches the number of voters in each precinct. After an election, only the Board of Canvassers can open a ballot container, and all recounts are operated under the authority of the board.
When are election results official?
Election results are posted online as soon as they are received by the county clerk's office. However, election night results are unofficial. The results of the election are not official until after the results have been certified in each precinct by the Board of Canvassers.
How do I know results are accurate?
When the Board of Canvassers certifies the results, a bipartisan team reviews the results from each precinct. If there are any discrepancies, these are noted. In cases where the number of ballots cast do not match the number of voters, the Board of Canvassers has the authority to retabulate these ballots. This may occur if there is a tabulator malfunction or user error, and is easily corrected by retabulating the voted ballots. If a voter is required to cast a provisional ballot, they may be able to verify their ID with their local clerk's office after Election Day. This type of ballot, if it is determined that it can be counted, may be added to the official totals by the Board of Canvassers.
But really, how do I know results are accurate?
Voters must be registered to vote. Every voter is issued a ballot with a numbered stub. That number is tied to one specific voter. Each ballot number is accounted for in the precinct on Election Day. The reports that account for those ballots are then reviewed by a bipartisan, independent board of canvassers. After the election, candidates and interest groups may call for a recount of the paper ballots.
And after all of those safeguards, our office conducts post-election audits. These audits go into further depth with a randomly selected set of precincts. Every ballot is counted by hand and compared with the total number of votes cast in the precinct. Other materials, including applications for ballots, are also accounted for. Finally, at the state level, the results of the election as a whole are checked against a scientific sample of ballots to ensure that the reported outcome matches the ballots that are actually on hand. All of these processes are open to the public, and all election materials can be viewed at any time.
Storing Election Materials
What happens to election materials after the election?
Election materials are required to be stored for 22 months after every federal election (meaning any election with a federal office on the ballot). These ballots are stored under seal, and these seals have been signed off on by both a Democratic and Republican election inspector. Only the Board of Canvassers may open the ballot container within 30 days of the election. They may do so in two instances: 1) the precinct is out of balance during the canvass and needs to be accounted for, or 2) a recount has been requested.
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