Unusual request for 2016 ballots worries election officials
A recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for copies of ballots from 2016 originally puzzled Michigan election officials and is causing some concern as the group behind the request explains its motives.
A few weeks ago, city and township clerks across Michigan received FOIA requests from someone claiming to be “Emily”, asking clerks to supply, “copies of all ballots cast and counted on Election Day (2016).”
Approximately 2.5 million ballots were cast in Michigan during the 2016 Presidential election. Those sheer numbers cause Calhoun County’s Deputy Clerk of Elections Teri Loew some concern about the time, energy, and money it will cost to fulfill the request.
“It’s going to take the clerks a lot of hours,” she said, referencing the amount of money staff will have to be paid to access the ballots.
The mystery behind who sent the FOIA request soon became clear after a Democratic-leaning organization named Priorities USA Foundation issued a statement, explaining its motives behind the request.
"In light of numerous threats to voting rights in recent years, the Priorities USA Foundation is committed to identifying and eliminating barriers to voting and ensuring that future elections are fair and accessible for every eligible voter," read the statement in part. "To this end, the Priorities USA Foundation recently began an in-depth research effort to determine whether any discrepancies exist in the ballot process across various states and precincts that might disproportionately affect certain communities, particularly communities of color and young people."
According to The Detroit News, Priorities USA outsourced the task of getting all the ballots to a "third party," which might explain the cryptic nature of the FOIA requests.
Loew said Priorities USA will have to foot half the bill to get all the ballots, which she estimated could cost up to $1 million given the sheer number of FOIA requests sent out.
As for concerns about voter identities being compromised, Loew says that would be unlikely to happen because the identity of the voter is immediately separated from the ballot once the vote is submitted.
Below is a a full statement provided to WWMT from Priorities USA:
In light of numerous threats to voting rights in recent years, the Priorities USA Foundation is committed to identifying and eliminating barriers to voting and ensuring that future elections are fair and accessible for every eligible voter. To this end, the Priorities USA Foundation recently began an in-depth research effort to determine whether any discrepancies exist in the ballot process across various states and precincts that might disproportionately affect certain communities, particularly communities of color and young people. The research will be looking into such potential issues as disparities in ballot counting procedures—especially among provisional ballots—and the impact of “under-voting” and discarded ballots in these communities. As a first step in this process, the Priorities USA Foundation contracted with an outside company to request anonymized ballot information from a representative sample of precincts throughout the state of Michigan.
This research comes as part of the Priorities USA Foundation’s forward-looking plan to defend voting rights wherever they are threatened. Since 2015, the Priorities USA Foundation and its predecessor Every Citizen Counts have sponsored lawsuits against suppressive voting laws in Florida, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. We look forward to conducting this important work to guarantee that every vote is considered and counted equally.
While litigation against voter suppression efforts is one important strategy, we must also turn our attention to other systemic problems in our voting systems. In response, the Priorities USA Foundation is launching an in-depth research effort to examine three critical areas:
- The distribution of and counting procedures for provisional ballots, particularly in communities of color and among young people.
- The consistency of ballot counting within and among different communities. In particular, is vote counting, whether in person, by mail, early, or provisionally, consistently done regardless of where one lives?
- The impact of “under-voting” and discarded ballots on our election process. In particular, are under-voting (the process by which a voter casts a ballot for some but not all of the races on a particular ballot) and discarded ballots disproportionately affecting communities of color and young people?