FACT FOCUS: Did late night Michigan voting lines show fraud?
Michigan saw record turnout for a midterm election this week, with control of the governor’s office and referendums on abortion and voting rights in the balance.
But with a heightened focus on voting problems and irregularities nationwide, Ann Arbor became a target for false information following reports of long lines of voters waiting to cast ballots late into the night Tuesday in the college community.
Elections officials, government watchdog groups and other experts, however, said the election process was carried out according to state law.
Here are the facts.
CLAIM: City officials in Ann Arbor were registering new voters and allowing them to vote long after the polls closed on Election Day.
THE FACTS: The false claim gained traction after a Republican candidate for Michigan secretary of state issued a lengthy statement on social media singling out the vote in Ann Arbor — a liberal bastion that’s home to the University of Michigan — as proof of election malfeasance.
“We will not tolerate the lawlessness of the Ann Arbor city clerk,” Kristina Karamo wrote in her Election Day tweet, which has since been liked or shared more than 1,200 times.
The Trump-endorsed Republican, who ended up losing to incumbent Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, doubled down on her claims Thursday in a tweet that was also widely shared.
“The Ann Arbor clerk is engaging in mass Election Crimes. Illegally registering people after 8pm,” another Twitter user wrote, echoing the false claim. “They are arrogantly breaking the law.”
But Michigan state law allows any person in line when polls close at 8 p.m. to register to vote and to cast a ballot, election officials and experts told The Associated Press this week.
“Although we say the polls are open until 8pm in MI, if you are in line before 8pm and stay in line you can vote,” Sharon Dolente, a senior advisor for Promote the Vote, wrote in an email. “The same is true if you need to register to vote first, in order to vote.”
Promote the Vote, a coalition that includes the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union, coordinated an Election Day hotline and had hundreds of observers at polling locations throughout the state on Tuesday.
Dale Thomson, a political science professor at the University of Michigan in Dearborn, agreed, noting that Michigan voters in 2018 approved same-day registration, meaning voters can enroll up to and including on Election Day.
The Michigan Department of State, which oversees elections statewide, confirmed with Ann Arbor officials that all voters registered after 8 p.m. had been in line before polls closed and that each person was provided a document to verify that, said Jake Rollow, an agency spokesperson.
“Eligible American citizens have the constitutional right to register to vote and vote, and if they are in line at the 8 p.m. deadline on Election Day, they must be allowed to do so,” he wrote in an email.
Joanna Satterlee, a spokesperson for the city of Ann Arbor, said the waiting voters were handed a “ticket” in the form of a blank application to vote.
Only those in line holding the application were permitted to register and vote, she said. Staff were also present to ensure no one joined the lines after 8 p.m.
Satterlee said the city didn’t have a count for how many votes were cast by those waiting in line past 8 p.m. on Tuesday, but that the last ballot was issued shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday.
She said the three voting locations impacted were City Hall and two sites on the University of Michigan campus, where hundreds of waiting voters were seen wrapped up in donated blankets and sipping on hot cocoa as temperatures dropped below 45 degrees.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which posted election monitors in other Michigan cities, declined to comment, and Karamo’s campaign didn’t respond to messages this week.
But the secretary of state’s office said it will work with city officials, university administrators and student leaders in Ann Arbor and other college communities to “identify and implement practices to prevent such situations” going forward.
Michigan State University on Friday said it experienced similarly long voting lines, with the last ballot cast on its East Lansing campus at 12:09 a.m. Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, long lines in some locations, most often university towns, have been a challenge in Michigan for years,” said Dolente. “This was true before same day registration was adopted. Promote the Vote looks forward to working with election officials to prevent it from happening in the future.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.