As absentee ballots go out, clerks review election security

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published October 13, 2021

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MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — A year after the presidential election, no evidence has been found of widespread voter fraud, yet some still question the integrity of the voting process.

Now, with weeks to go before the general election Nov. 2, city clerks are reviewing what goes into ensuring each vote is counted correctly.

“I cannot emphasize enough the security and accuracy of elections in Madison Heights and in the entire state of Michigan,” said Cheryl Rottmann, the city clerk of Madison Heights, via email.

“Every municipal clerk is responsible for election administration, rather than the state or county. There are many checks and balances that go into our election system,” she said. “It is a very safe, secure and transparent system.”

Recent years have seen an increase in voter participation, as well as a higher percentage of people voting absentee rather than in person.

In Hazel Park, 7,901 votes were cast in last year’s general election, a turnout of more than 60% of registered voters. This was an increase of more than than 20% from the turnout in the 2016 general election, in which 6,486 votes were cast.

Of the people who voted in 2020, there were 3,666 Hazel Park residents who voted in person on Election Day, while a greater number — 4,235 residents — voted absentee.

It was the first time in the city’s history that more residents voted absentee than in person. The in-person voting total had dropped from 5,861 in the 2016 general election.

“Due to the substantial increase in absentee voting in recent years, Hazel Park’s Permanent AV Application list has grown quite a lot,” said Jim Finkley, the Hazel Park city clerk, in an email.

“Casting a ballot by mail has quickly become the preferred voting method for many people,” he said. “This means that turnout will likely be higher than in past odd-year elections, because a number of people are now voting absentee who otherwise might not have voted at all.”

In Madison Heights, a total of 15,373 votes were cast during the general election last year, which was an increase in turnout of 19.5% from the general election in 2016. The majority of those were absentee (9,680) while the rest were in-person (5,693). Compared to 2016, that is a 41% drop in in-person voting, and a 206% increase in absentee voting.

Whether you vote absentee or in person, officials say you should feel confident in the system. Finkley explained how all tabulation machines had been tested for accuracy prior to the election to ensure they would properly count votes, and how the in-person voting process is simple, with each voter having their IDs checked or signing an affidavit attesting to their identity, and then depositing the ballots into the tabulator, at which point they are shown a confirmation screen when it’s accepted.

Absentee ballots go through an even more rigorous verification process, including a series of checks by the City Clerk’s Office when applied for, issued and received. In addition, the Absentee Voter Counting Board has a system of checks and balances for each absentee ballot. The city’s Receiving Board and the county’s Canvassing Board also perform additional verifications of the election results.

The whole process requires several months of prep work by dozens, if not hundreds of people. Along with City Clerk staff, there are other city staff involved, as well as precinct workers and the Absent Voter Counting Board, and volunteers and employees at each building used for voting.

Rottmann said that when the city receives an application for an absentee ballot, the City Clerk’s Office checks to make sure the signature matches the one that the city has on file in the Qualified Voter File system (QVF), and then the signature on the envelope is checked again when the ballot is returned to make sure it still matches the QVF. Only then can it be processed to be counted.

Once the ballot is received by the clerk, it’s officially logged into the system. Every ballot that is received must be delivered to the Absentee Counting Board to be counted on Election Day.

The number of ballots received must equal the number of ballots processed and counted. Ballots are counted by teams of both Democratic and Republican election inspectors, and they are never left unattended.

This security extends to precinct polling places as well, with both Republican and Democratic inspectors at each location. In addition, the voter has to submit an application attesting to their qualifications to vote, and the Electronic Poll Book has a record of anyone issued an absentee ballot by the City Clerk’s Office, which prevents people from voting both absentee and in person.

If a voter was issued an absentee ballot and it was not returned, once that is verified by the inspector calling the City Clerk’s Office on Election Day, the voter has to fill out an affidavit, and then their absentee ballot is spoiled and they are permitted to vote in the precinct.

“In addition, all of our equipment and programming has been tested for accuracy and sealed with tamper-proof seals to maintain programming security,” Rottmann said. “And in the voting precinct when the polls are open, no equipment is connected to the internet.”  

Those who wish to vote absentee can submit a written and signed request at the City Clerk’s Office inside City Hall — 300 W. 13 Mile Road in Madison Heights, and 111 E. Nine Mile Road in Hazel Park.

An absentee ballot application can also be obtained at Voters in the city of Madison Heights can obtain one at, as well — click on the “City Clerk” folder, and then click on “Elections” folder to find it.

The weekend prior to Nov. 2 is the latest that the clerks can mail out forms, although voters can still obtain an absentee ballot in person at their City Clerk’s Office that weekend. For more information, Hazel Park voters can call their City Clerk’s Office at (248) 546-4064, while Madison Heights voters can call their City Clerk’s Office at (248) 583-0826.