The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) filed a lawsuit against Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Wednesday, alleging she failed to remove more than 25,000 potentially deceased registrants from voter rolls after being notified of the issue several times.
The law firm, which is solely dedicated to election integrity, first reportedly notified Benson about the potentially deceased voters in September 2o2o after extensively reviewing and cross referencing state records. According to the lawsuit, PILF was repeatedly met with resistance by the Secretary of State’s office and was even allegedly denied a records request. As a result of Benson’s refusal to change or comply, the firm had to repurchase voter data reports several times over the course of a year to make sure its investigation was up to date. PILF said in the lawsuit:
The Foundation has spent many thousands of dollars reviewing Michigan’s election procedures and documented failures to maintain an accurate and correct voter roll as required by the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act of 1993]. Defendant’s unlawful list maintenance program has forced the Foundation to incur substantial costs comparing Michigan’s voter rolls to the Social Security Death Index, various commercial databases, and other sources in order to identify deceased registrants.
As of August 2021, there were more than 25,975 deceased registrants on Michigan’s voter rolls. Of those 25,975:
- 23,663 registrants have dead for five years or more
- 17,479 registrants have been dead for at least a decade
- 3,956 registrants have been dead for at least 20 years
“For example, the Foundation discovered one registrant who, if alive today, would be 100 years old. She died over two decades ago but remains an active voter on Michigan’s voter rolls. The Foundation even found her obituary from the Detroit Free Press,” according to the firm.
PILF found another registrant who would be 108-years-old if she was still alive.
“She also died over two decades ago. The Foundation also found her obituary in the Detroit Free Press and her gravestone online,” the firm reported.
According to the lawsuit, Michigan is in violation of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which requires officials to “conduct a general program that makes a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters.”
PILF President J. Christian Adams said:
This case is about ensuring that deceased registrants are not receiving ballots. For over a year, we’ve shared specific data with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office about the alarming problem of deceased registrants on Michigan’s voter rolls. Secretary Benson has done nothing to resolve the problem and is even refusing to hand over public documents related to these failures. The failure to remove deceased registrants creates an opportunity for fraud and makes Michigan’s elections less secure.
After the firm notified Benson numerous times, she issued a press release on January 28, 2021 touting her efforts to “bolster election security,”but no substantial evidence was found showing Benson had removed deceased voters, the lawsuit states.
“…Approximately 177,000 voter registrations slated for cancellation because the state has reason to believe the voter has moved away from the registration address,” the release reportedly read. Upon further inspection, PILF found that none of the 177,000 registrations overlapped with the potentially deceased registrants the firm had notified Benson about.
The firm found that many registrants “have voter registration dates after the reported date of their death.” PILF said in the lawsuit:
Without further inquiry, there is no way to know for certain whether these post-death registrations are the result of identity theft, data input error, or some other reason. But this kind of issue would not arise if Michigan cross-referenced new registrations to the [Social Security Death Index] SSDI. With such a high prevalence of apparent post-death registrations, it is only reasonable to incorporate (and unreasonable to not incorporate) SSDI cross-references in the registration process.
PILF is asking the court to declare Benson in violation of the NVRA and to order an immediate and thorough investigation of the deceased registrants uncovered by the Foundation and have them removed. The firm is also asking the court to order Benson to allow an inspection of records about the implementation of programs ensuring accuracy of Michigan’s official list of eligible voters and for the court to protect against future malpractice by ordering Benson to cross reference names of new registrants against the SSDI.
The case is Public Interest Legal Foundation v. Benson, No. 1:21-cv-929 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan.