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.
- Michigan Senate Oversight Committee Report on November 2020 Election
- How are voting machines programmed?
- Can a voting machine switch votes?
- How do I know my deceased relative or friend’s name was not used to vote?
- Can absentee ballots be run through a machine multiple times?
- How do I know my specific ballot tabulated correctly?
- Are there independent groups that oversee an election?
- How do I know results are accurate?
Table of Contents
Before Election Day
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.
Why did I receive multiple Absentee Ballot Applications?
You may have received multiple Absentee Ballot Applications in the mail. Political parties, interest groups, candidates, and even individuals are allowed to print and distribute absentee ballot applications. The groups that send out these applications are using outdated information, and they do not know if you have already received, or submitted, an application. Even though you may receive multiple applications, you will only receive one ballot.
If you receive mail, email, or text messages that you believe to be fraudulent or in error, please report those to our office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616-994-4535.
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.
What’s the status of my absentee ballot and/or application?
If you’re unsure about the status of your Absentee Ballot Application, or the status of the ballot itself, go to www.Michigan.gov/Vote. There, you can view voter information, including:
- Are you registered?
- Has your Absentee Ballot Application been received?
- Has your ballot been mailed?
- Has your ballot been received?
- Who is your local city or township clerk?
What is the deadline for absentee ballots to be submitted?
In Michigan, all ballots must be received by a local clerk or in a drop box when polls close at 8pm on Election Day regardless of the postmark date. Any ballot with a postmark date before or on Election Day will not be counted unless it is delivered to the local clerk’s office by 8pm.
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.
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 are ballots created?
The design and style of a ballot is created in our office using a special computer that cannot be connected to the internet. 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. Ballots are then printed by a verified print vendor and shipped to local clerks’ offices to be distributed to voters.
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.
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.
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.
What is a voter information card?
A voter information card contains information about a voter's precinct number, precinct location and voting districts. The card is sent to a voter who has recently registered in a new jurisdiction or whose precinct lines have changed. Due to redistricting, most registered voters in Ottawa County likely received a voter information card in Spring 2022. This card is for informational purposes only and does not need to be presented to vote.
What is the cancellation countdown?
Federal law requires that a voter receive several notices before they can be removed from the voter rolls.If a Local Clerk receives notice that a voter has moved, the voter's status is changed to challenge and the first notice is sent.
A “Notice of Cancellation,” is used to confirm the voter's address within a different jurisdiction. Additional language printed on the notice advises that the voter's registration will be canceled unless the voter participates in an election, replies to a confirmation notice re- affirming residence in the community, or engages in another voting or voter registration transaction by the second November General federal election following the notice. If after two (2) presidential election cycles pass and the voter has not voted, the voter is cancelled and must re-register to be eligible to vote again.
Due to the length of time that must pass before a voter can be cancelled, it's possible that new tenants or owners of a property will receive mail addressed to their home but with the name of the voter on the countdown. If you receive this mail, you may reach out to your Local Clerk to confirm that the individual no longer lives there, this will give the Local Clerk updated information for when it's time to cancel the previous tenant. Once the record is canceled, the date and reason for the cancellation is noted on the voter's Master Card. The master card is then moved to the jurisdiction's cancellation file where it is retained for 5 years beyond the date of cancellation
How are voting machines programmed?
Ottawa County uses Hart InterCivic as our voting equipment vendor, and we use the Verity Voting System. All ballot tabulators are programmed using a special computer that also cannot be connected to the internet. Each tabulator receives a unique flash drive during the public logic and accuracy test. Each flash drive ensures the tabulator can only read official ballots for that specific precinct. The flash drive is sealed inside the tabulator at the logic and accuracy test. On Election Day, Election Inspectors verify the seal numbers match to ensure the tabulator has not been tampered with. At the end of the night, the flash drive contains the precinct’s results once the polls have closed. The flash drive is then taken out of the tabulator by a Democratic and Republican Election Inspector, sealed in a certified bag, and brought to the Clerk’s office.
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.
Can a voting machine switch votes?
There are rigorous steps in place to ensure that a machine cannot be tampered with to switch votes. Tabulators are programed with a unique flash drive using a computer that cannot be connected to the internet. Before an election, every tabulator is tested at a public accuracy and logic test. See “How do I know the tabulator counted by vote correctly” question above. On Election Day, all seal numbers and machines are checked to ensure they have not been tampered with between the test and Election Day. After the election, the County Board of Canvassers and the Post-Election Audits ensure that machines counted the votes correctly.
How are Drop Boxes secured?
All drop boxes in Ottawa County are locked, secured to the ground and are under 24/7 camera surveillance. Only the Local Clerk and deputized staff can open the drop box and are required to transport ballots in an approved ballot container.
Who can return another voter's absentee ballot?
According to Michigan Election law, only certain people can return absentee ballots to a Local Clerk's office. A voter can return their own ballot as well as the ballot of any registered voter who lives in the same household with them. Some examples include spouses, parents, and children.
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?
All hiring for election inspectors is done through a city or township clerk’s office and need varies by jurisdiction. The Ottawa County clerk’s office works closely with our 23 city and township clerks to help recruit workers. If you are interested in working as an election worker, visit miottawa.org/ElectionWorker to learn more about qualifications and expectations. You’ll also be able to fill out an interest form and complete the online training. Your contact information will be shared with our city and township clerks, who will contact you if they need help.
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.
Can absentee ballots be run through the tabulator multiple times?
No. Absentee ballots are processed by bipartisan teams of election inspectors. These teams ensure that ballots are only tabulated once. Additionally, the County Board of Canvassers verifies the number of ballots cast equals the number of voters that requested a ballot to ensure no absentee ballot was scanned and counted multiple times.
If the machine indicates that there is an error on a ballot, both a Republican and Democratic election inspector must review the ballot together to identify the error. If a ballot is torn, or otherwise cannot be read through a voting machine, a Democratic and Republican election inspector must duplicate this ballot onto a ballot that will be read by the ballot tabulator. In this process, the original ballot is kept so that it can be compared to the duplicated ballot during the post-election audit process.
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 voted the ballot, they must surrender the ballot at the precinct. If the ballot has been lost or destroyed, the voter will have to complete an affidavit at the polls in order to be issued a new ballot.
How do I know my deceased relative or friend’s name was not used to vote?
Local clerks regularly update their voter lists with local, state and federal data. Clerks have the authority to remove the voter from the voter rolls if they receive information that a voter has passed away, or should otherwise no longer be registered to vote in their community. Only registered voters will appear on an e-pollbook and be allowed to cast a ballot. If a voter is still alive when they submit an absentee ballot, but passes away before Election Day, their vote will not be counted.
Another way to ensure that a deceased relative or friend’s name was not used is to check the voter list. Only names of registered voters who requested and received a ballot will appear on this list.
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.
How do I know my specific ballot tabulated correctly?
All voters are issued a ballot with a specific number that is printed on the perforated stub on the top of the ballot. The ballot number is recorded on the voter’s application. By recording a ballot number on the application, clerks can ensure that each voter only receives one ballot and that only voters who return an application are issued a ballot. To protect a voter’s right to a secret ballot, the stub is removed from the ballot before it is inserted into the tabulator machine and mixed in with other paper ballots. After the stub is removed, there is no way to identify a specific ballot to a specific voter. For additional information about how we ensure that every ballot is tabulated accurately, see Tabulation Equipment.
What happens if my ballot is damaged in the mail, or can’t be read by the ballot tabulator?
On occasion, ballots are returned ripped, with coffee stains, or with other marks that prevent the ballot from being able to go through the tabulator machine. To allow this vote to be cast, election workers follow the ballot duplication process. In a bipartisan team, one Democratic and one Republican Election Inspector mark a new ballot with the exact same choices as the original ballot. The duplicate ballot is marked “duplicate” and the original ballot is marked “original”. During the audit process, original and duplicate ballots are reviewed to ensure the ballot was marked as the voter originally intended.
The only other time a worker may need to mark a ballot is during the challenged ballot process. If a ballot is challenged for any reason, workers will label that ballot with the ballot number and cover it with a sticky note. The voter will vote their ballot as normal, but the written ballot number allows the ballot to be identified and removed from the results should the Board of Canvassers vote to not allow the ballot to be counted.
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.
Are there any independent groups that oversee an election?
Precincts and Absent Voter Counting Boards are open to poll watchers and poll challengers. Poll watchers are members of the public who can stand in a designated area and watch the election. Poll challengers are appointed by political parties and interest groups. They independently view all election related activities and can challenge a process when they believe there is potential misconduct. While poll challengers are welcome to view the process for any election, there are many elections where no challengers are present. To ensure no misconduct happens, Michigan Election law requires at least one Democratic and one Republican Election Inspector to be present in each precinct.
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. Each precinct and absentee counting board submits their results through an encrypted cellular network. Results are received by an encrypted computer at the County Clerk’s office. Results are then transferred to a tabulation computer that is “air gapped,” or not connected to the internet. Results are then transmitted to a third computer that is connected to the internet so that unofficial results can be uploaded to our website for the public to review. This data is for informational purposes only. Official results are not transmitted electronically, and are instead read manually from media sticks installed in each ballot tabulator.
Each tabulator also prints a paper tape on Election night that shows the results for that precinct or absentee counting board. Paper receipt tapes and paper ballot act as another back up for official results.
Why are results reported in spikes?
Results in Michigan are reported after 8pm, when all ballots in a specific precinct or jurisdiction have been counted. Results are not reported throughout the day as ballots are being counted. It is not uncommon for results to be updated multiples times on Election Night. The time between results being reported does not mean ballots were counted during that period.
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.
What is the County Board of Canvassers and what are their responsibilities?
The County Board of Canvassers is an independent, bipartisan board with four members (two Democrats and two Republicans), and is responsible for certifying the results of an election. 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. After an election, only the Board of Canvassers can open a ballot container, and all recounts are operated under the authority of the board.
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.Post-Election Audit Reports
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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