Frequently asked questions about voting and voter security
LAKE COUNTY -- Patti Pacola, Lake County Clerk, Register of Deeds and County Elections Administrator, wants to make sure all Lake County voters have accurate information about the upcoming elections in August and November, and to assure voters that every precaution is being taken to preserve the integrity of the elections.
"Lake County is taking steps to ensure elections are secure while making certain that every vote counts," she said.
The following are answers to some frequently asked questions regarding voting and voter security:
What do I do if I receive an absentee ballot application for someone who no longer lives at my 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 as accurate as possible. 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.
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 can update voter information to make sure that when it's time to send ballots, those ballots are only sent to verified voters.
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.
What's the difference between an absentee ballot and a ballot issued in a precinct?
Absentee ballots are the exact same paper ballot as a ballot issued in a precinct.
Absentee ballots are run through the tabulator on Election Day and are stored in secure containers the same as ballots issued in a precinct.
The only difference is that voters can vote in the comfort of their home instead of at a precinct.
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.
Why is the ballot arranged the way 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 ballot.
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 authentications. 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 mismarking 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.
How do I know my vote won't be tampered with or changed on an Absentee Voter Ballot?
Absentee ballot envelopes are not opened until Election Day. The envelope is then opened by members of the Absent Voter Counting Board, which is comprised 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 can 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 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 person.
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.
Local clerks will verify a voter's information and 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 show a drivers' license or state photo ID in order to register and receive a ballot.
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, or sign an affidavit if they do not have one, in order to receive a ballot.
Providing a drivers' license or state photo ID allows election inspectors to pull up your information more quickly and accurately. When a driver's license is swiped at a precinct, the correct voter information is automatically populated in the computer.
However, your ID does not need to be swiped in order to pull up your voter data. Election inspectors can type your last name into the poll book to pull up your voter record.
A photo ID is NOT required to cast a ballot, but you will have to sign an affidavit if you do not have an ID with you.
Voters who receive an absentee ballot by mail must have registered to vote using a driver's license or social security number. These voters must also sign both an application and the ballot envelope, and these signatures are verified prior to the ballots being counted.
What happens after the polls close?
The polls close at 8 p.m. on election day. Anyone already in line at 8 p.m. may still cast a ballot.
When the polls are closed, the ballot tabulator immediately prints election results for that machine on a receipt tape. After the tape prints, the tabulator transmits the results to the county, and all results for the county are accumulated and totaled.
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. 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, but are, instead, read manually from media installed in each ballot tabulator that is not 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.
The 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?
The results of an election are not official until after they 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 the ballots. This may occur if there is a tabulator malfunction or user error, and it is easily corrected by retabulating the ballots.
If a voter is required to cast a provisional ballot, they may be asked 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, will 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.
In addition, following the election, the county clerk's office conducts post-election audits. These audits apply to a randomly selected set of precincts, where 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 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.
What happens to election materials after the election?
Election materials are required to be stored for 22 months after every federal election. These ballots are stored under seal, and the seals have been signed off on by both a Democratic and Republican elections inspector.
Only the Board of Canvassers may open the ballot container within 30 days of the election. They may do so in two instances: if the precinct is out of balance during the canvass and needs to be accounted for, or if a recount has been requested.