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A Republican election challenger at right watches over election inspectors as they examine a ballot as votes are counted into the early morning hours Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the central counting board in Detroit. (AP) A Republican election challenger at right watches over election inspectors as they examine a ballot as votes are counted into the early morning hours Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the central counting board in Detroit. (AP)

A Republican election challenger at right watches over election inspectors as they examine a ballot as votes are counted into the early morning hours Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the central counting board in Detroit. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman November 5, 2020

Dead voters on Detroit’s voter rolls, including person born in 1823? That post is outdated

If Your Time is short

  • The Public Interest Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit in December 2019 against Detroit elections officials alleging that they failed to maintain accurate and current voter rolls.

  • The foundation dropped their lawsuit in June after they were satisfied that Detroit officials took action.

  • The fact that dead people are on the voter rolls does not mean that anyone has tried to cast a fraudulent ballot in their name.

A graphic was shared on Facebook the day after the election suggesting that Michigan had thousands of fraudulent voter registrations, including for dead people.

The image cited Fox 2 TV news and stated, "Detroit Voter Roll Lawsuit — Filed by the Public Interest Legal Foundation." It was followed by four bullet points made the following points: Detroit had 4,788 duplicate voter registrations, 32,519 more registered voters than eligible voters, 2,503 dead people registered, and one voter born in 1823.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

As Michigan continued to count ballots, we found similar claims on social media that suggested these dead people on Michigan’s voter rolls were a sign of voter fraud. On Twitter, one referred to the image as an example of "more Detroit corruption," while another tweeted "Bro the fraud is hilarious." 

The social media posts falsely suggest that the problematic registrations were tied to the Nov. 3 election. But the lawsuit was dropped months ago after elections officials took steps to clean up the voter rolls. The Fox 2 report about the lawsuit aired in December 2019.

Lawsuit about dead people on voter rolls dropped months before Election Day

The lawsuit was filed by the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an organization which has filed lawsuits nationwide seeking to get jurisdictions to keep voter rolls up to date or to oppose expansions of voting by mail. J. Christian Adams, who served on President Donald Trump’s defunct voter integrity commission, is president and general counsel of the foundation.

In December 2019, the foundation filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Detroit alleging it failed to maintain accurate and current voter rolls. The lawsuit didn’t allege that live humans impersonated dead voters and cast ballots.

The lawsuit compared the state’s voter file with death records and found more than 2,500 dead people, including one born in 1823, years before Michigan joined the Union. The foundation also found individuals who were registered two or three times with matching or substantially similar names, for a total of 4,788 registration files for duplicate and triplicate concerns.

Six months later on June 29, the foundation dropped their lawsuit after concluding that election officials had worked to fix their voter rolls.

"Defendants have taken action on the list of likely deceased registrants provided by the Plaintiff. Further, almost all of the duplicate registrations that Plaintiff brought to Defendants’ attention have been corrected," the foundation’s lawyers wrote.

We reached out to Janice Winfrey, Detroit’s City Clerk and a defendant in the lawsuit, and did not hear back.

When the lawsuit was dropped, Winfrey told the Detroit News that Detroit’s updated voter rolls were largely a result of regular maintenance. However, Winfrey said her office looked into the allegation that one registered voter was born in 1823.

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"We did do some extra digging because that is ridiculous and we wanted to see what was going on there," Winfrey said. "The conclusion was that that was a typographical error."

Dead voters on rolls doesn’t automatically mean votes are cast in their names 

The fact that dead people remain on voter rolls in Michigan or any other state does not itself equal fraud — it’s only a crime if someone then fills out a ballot in the name of a dead voter and sends it in. 

The likelihood that voter fraud can happen because of dead people on the rolls is very low, Thessalia Merivaki, an expert on voter administration and political science professor at Mississippi State University, previously told PolitiFact.

"Election administrators verify a lot of information prior to processing a ballot, be it by mail or in person," Merivaki said.

Michigan officials said one step they take to verify ballots is signature verification.

States including Michigan have significantly improved keeping their registration records up to date by joining the national Electronic Registration Information Center, which sends reports to member states showing when voters have moved within their state or out of state, when they have died and flagging when they may have duplicate registrations. 

It is typical to see a number of absentee votes deemed ineligible in an election, because voters die after casting their ballot. In the November 2016 election, Michigan rejected more than 1,780 absentee ballots because the voters died after they cast their votes. State elections officials previously told us that rather than indicating instances of fraud, the rejected ballots show the state’s ability to detect and discount ineligible ballots.

We have fact-checked many misleading claims about dead people on the voter rolls this year including in Michigan, Virginia, Nevada and Wisconsin.

Our ruling

A Facebook post stated Detroit has "2,503 dead people registered" including "one voter born in 1823."

The post cites a TV news report in December related to a lawsuit filed that month by the Public Interest Legal Foundation. In June, the foundation dropped their lawsuit after they concluded that Detroit elections officials had taken action to fix the voter rolls. The person on the rolls born in 1823 was a typographical error, according to the elections office.

The Facebook post misleads by suggesting that dead people on the voter rolls are tied to the current counting of ballots for the Nov. 3 election. Also, dead people on the rolls doesn’t automatically mean fraud, and elections officials take steps to make sure that ballots aren’t cast in the name of dead voters.

We rate this statement False.

 

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more. 

Our Sources

Facebook post, Nov. 4, 2020

Public Interest Legal Foundation, Lawsuit against Detroit, December 2019

Fox2 Detroit, Detroit has 2,500 dead people registered to vote lawsuit claim, Dec. 12, 2019

Snopes, Did a Fox 2 Detroit Report Expose Voter Fraud in the 2020 Election? Nov. 4, 2020

Detroit Free Press, Suit: Thousands of dead people on Detroit voter rolls, Dec. 12, 2019

Detroit News, Group drops challenge to Detroit voter rolls after dead, duplicate registrants removed, July 1, 2020

National Conference of State Legislatures, Voter list accuracy, March 20, 2020

PolitiFact, Donald Trump Jr. distorts Michigan data on dead voters, Aug. 18, 2020

PolitiFact, Post wrongly says thousands of ballots sent to dead people, pets in Virginia and Nevada, Sept. 9, 2020

PolitiFact, Are dead people among the names in Wisconsin voter roll purge? Jan. 30, 2020

Telephone interview, Tracy Wimmer, spokesperson for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Nov. 5, 2020

 

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More by Amy Sherman

Dead voters on Detroit’s voter rolls, including person born in 1823? That post is outdated

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