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A Michigan voter inserts her absentee voter ballot into a drop box in Troy, Mich on Oct. 15, 2020. (AP) A Michigan voter inserts her absentee voter ballot into a drop box in Troy, Mich on Oct. 15, 2020. (AP)

A Michigan voter inserts her absentee voter ballot into a drop box in Troy, Mich on Oct. 15, 2020. (AP)

Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek May 16, 2024

Proposed changes to Michigan election recounts would not ban ‘voter fraud investigations’

If Your Time is short

  • Michigan election officials, a Michigan state senator, a Michigan attorney general’s office spokesperson and a voting rights group executive director all told PolitiFact that they know of no proposed legislation that would ban "voter fraud investigations." 

  • If it becomes law, Michigan Senate Bill 603 will amend the state’s procedures for election recounts. It would also put in statute that a recount "is not an investigation or an audit of the conduct of an election," aiming to end frivolous recounts.

  • The bill’s sponsor and county clerks who helped draft the legislation said it aims to clarify and improve recount procedures and will not prevent investigation of voter fraud allegations. The bill’s critics argue it would remove one method of investigating potential fraud.

In Michigan, a battleground state, elections have been scrutinized in recent years, and this year’s presidential election will be no exception. That’s likely one reason a proposed change to Michigan’s election laws is garnering social media attention. 

"Voter fraud investigations are being banned by Michigan lawmakers!" read a May 4 Facebook post.  

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

We searched Google for "voter fraud investigations," "ban" and "Michigan" and found a May 2 article by the conservative news website The Daily Wire. It said Michigan Senate Bill 603 would "ban bipartisan election boards from investigating voter fraud." That bill passed the Democratic-controlled Michigan Senate on April 30 without Republican support.

If it becomes law, S.B. 603 will amend Michigan’s procedures for election recounts, with a goal of prohibiting recounts when the outcome could not change the election results. 

During the 2022 midterm elections, Michigan voters approved constitutional amendments related to abortion access and voting rights by hundreds of thousands of votes. Nevertheless, a group requested costly recounts that could not change the election outcome; that same group had unsuccessfully tried to decertify Michigan’s 2020 election results because of unproven fraud allegations. 

The bill would also clarify the definition of a recount, explicitly distinguishing it from an election investigation, and remove some mentions of "fraud." 

We found no indication in the S.B. 603’s text that the measure would prevent investigations of voter fraud allegations.

Michigan election officials, a Michigan state senator, a Michigan attorney general’s office spokesperson and a voting rights group executive director all told PolitiFact that they know of no proposed legislation that would ban "voter fraud investigations." 

What does Senate Bill 603 say? 

State Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, who sponsored the bill, said it amends sections of the election code related to recounts, and does not ban investigations of fraud.

Michigan law allows candidates who believe that a mistake or discrepancy resulted in an incorrect election result to petition for recounts. 

"Recounts are conducted solely to recount the ballots and confirm the results of the election," said Lindsay Oswald, county clerk and Register of Deeds for St. Joseph County, Michigan. 

The bill "makes process improvements for recounts," Oswald, a Republican, said. "I do not see how it would stop lawful investigations for illegal activity."

S.B. 603 requires candidates who request recounts to ask that the number of votes being recounted exceed the margin of difference by which the election was lost. 

"We’ve seen situations where there literally was no possible outcome of a recount that was going to change the results, so then instead county clerks were spending our taxpayer dollars on, essentially, a frivolous recount," Chang said. 

Some inaccurate claims about the bill appeared to stem from the legislation’s definition of "recount" and the removal "fraud or mistake" as a rationale for requesting a recount. If the measure becomes law, candidates who broadly believe they were "aggrieved on account of error" will be able to request recounts. 

A recount "is an administrative process limited to determining the number of votes cast on ballots for each candidate seeking a particular office or determining the number of votes cast for or against a ballot question," the bill reads. "A recount is not an investigation or an audit of the conduct of an election, and a recount does not assess the qualifications of electors participating in an election or the manner in which ballots are applied for or issued to electors." 

County Clerks from both political parties who helped draft the legislation also distinguished recounts from investigations. 

The bill "simply spells out" that recounts aren’t investigations of voter fraud, "but rather an available option for candidates or impacted citizens to have the ballots counted to ensure that the results that were certified were correct," said Democrat Barb Byrum, Ingham County Clerk. "I fail to see how voter or election fraud would be discovered by a recount." 

Proposed law would remove language about boards of canvassers investigating fraud

State Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, who served two terms as secretary of state, voted against the bill April 30 because it would remove language she said gives "bipartisan county boards of canvassers in our state the authority to investigate fraud, wrongdoing, or a violation of the law in our elections."

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A spokesperson for her office pointed to a portion of law that said the board of canvassers has the power, if there is probable cause, to subpoena witnesses, open ballot boxes and examine ballots. After that, if canvassers had "good reason to believe" fraud had occurred, they were responsible for reporting their findings in writing for a prosecutor or judge. 

S.B. 603 repeals that language.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Christopher Thomas, who served as Michigan’s elections director for 36 years under Democratic and Republican secretaries of state, testified in support of the bill during a May 14 Michigan House hearing

Thomas, who was Board of State Canvassers secretary from 1981 to 2017, said that in practice, boards of canvassers have not conducted fraud investigations. 

The board’s "investigatory powers" expire as soon as a recount is certified, Thomas said, and there is "no time to conduct an investigation and complete a recount by the timelines required so that the successful candidates can take office." 

He also said recount petitioners themselves rarely have time to investigate and allege specific instances of fraud when requesting ballots be retabulated. 

"Most petitions that come in are based on the fact that it’s a close election," Thomas said. "Rarely, if ever, that I recall could anybody specify any fraud that they were basing their recount on." 

Oswald said that election officials or voters can report suspected election law violations to local law enforcement officials, county prosecutors, the state Bureau of Elections and the attorney general. 

"I have never had an investigation triggered by a recount," she said, adding that election officials would reach out to the appropriate law enforcement entity for anything "observed or reported as illegal." 

Voters wait in line outside the municipal offices before polls close on Election Day in Shelby Township, Mich., in Macomb County, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP)

Law enforcement investigates voter fraud

Quentin Turner, executive director of Common Cause Michigan, a voting rights group, said recounts are handled by election administrators who lack the authority to investigate criminal fraud. 

"Voter fraud is a crime and investigations into crime can only be done by law enforcement," Turner said.

Investigations into possible election improprieties "would be triggered by a report of some manner of illegal activity as defined by Michigan state statute," Byrum said.

People who suspect voter fraud is occuring can address their concerns "at the proper time in the proper way," Byrum said. 

"For instance, there are some who are spreading the false accusation that people are voting who shouldn’t be," she said. "We have election challengers that are nominated by political parties or other organizations who may be present in any precinct location and watch and challenge a voter’s qualifications. The time to do that is not at a recount, which is what this bill clarifies."

During the May 14 House hearing, Joe Rozell, Oakland County elections director, testified in support of the bill and said that people at recounts who observe something they suspect is fraudulent may freely file criminal complaints to law enforcement. A law isn’t required to permit that.

In 2018, for example, Rozell said officials suspected a local clerk had committed fraud and, "absent any statute, we reported it to the secretary of state and the attorney general, there was an investigation, and that election official subsequently plead ‘no contest’ to a felony and was removed from office."  

Our ruling

A Facebook post says, "Voter fraud investigations are being banned by Michigan lawmakers!"

Our review found one piece of legislation that would change the scope of one entity that oversees election processes. That legislation, S.B. 603, does not ban voter fraud investigations. 

Critics noted that Michigan S.B. 603 would strike one provision from existing law that says boards of canvassers can investigate fraud and report it to the appropriate enforcement authority. Michigan election experts said in practice, canvassing boards lack the time to investigate fraud while conducting a recount. And anyone can report suspected fraud to the appropriate authorities — including canvassing board members — even without a statutory obligation. 

An S.B. 603 bill sponsor and county clerks from both parties said the bill is aimed at clarifying the purpose of recounts, which are to retabulate ballots to ensure that an election’s results are correct — they are not criminal fraud investigations. 

Law enforcement handles fraud investigations.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, May 4, 2024

Interview with Michigan State Senator Stephanie Chang, May 9, 2024

Email interview with Barb Byrum, Ingham County Clerk, May 9, 2024

Email interview with Lindsay Oswald, County Clerk and Register of Deeds, May 9, 2024

Email interview with Quentin Turner, Executive Director of Common Cause Michigan, May 9, 2024

Email statement from Danny Wimmer, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office, May 9, 2024

Email statement from a spokesperson for Sen. Ruth Johnson’s office, May 9, 2024

Emailed statement from Christopher Thomas, a fellow with the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Election Project, May 14, 2024

The Daily Wire, Dem-Controlled Michigan Senate Passes Bill Banning Bipartisan Election Boards From Investigating Voter Fraud, May 2, 2024

Detroit Free Press, Election officials complaining about Michigan recount law see proposal to overhaul it, May 1, 2024

Michigan Public, Michigan Senate votes to tighten restrictions around election recounts, April 30, 2024

Michigan Legislature, S.B.-0603 As Passed Senate, April 30, 2024

Detroit Free Press, Michigan elections panel rebuffs calls to investigate, certifies recounts of Props 2 and 3, Dec. 21, 2022, Election Recounts, August 2018

The Detroit News, Michigan probe into fraudulent voter registrations referred to FBI, Aug. 11, 2023

The Detroit News, Michigan officials investigating voter registration 'irregularities' in Muskegon, Oct. 30, 2020

Michigan Department of State, Election Administration Basics, accessed May 8, 2024

Michigan Legislature, Recount Procedures; Amend S.B. 603 (S-1) & 604 (S-1), Summary Of Bill, Reported From Committee, accessed May 9, 2024

Michigan Legislature, MCL - Section 168.861 to MCL - Section 168.877, accessed May 9, 2024 

Sturgis Journal, County clerk not seeking third term, April 26, 2024

Michigan Legislature, No. 39 State Of Michigan Journal Of The Senate 102nd Legislature Regular Session Of 2024, April 30, 2024

Michigan Association of County Clerks, Legislative Committee, May 9, 2024

Detroit Free Press, Recounts of Props 2 and 3 see scattered disruptions, prompt calls for election law changes, Dec. 20, 2022

Politico, Michigan votes to put abortion rights into state constitution, Nov. 9, 2024

NBC News, Michigan Ballot Measures 2022, Nov. 8, 2022

MLive, ‘Nonsense’ recount of Props 2 and 3 greenlit in 43 Michigan counties, Dec. 6, 2022

Michigan House TV, Elections Committee hearing, May 14, 2024

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