TRAVERSE CITY — A Republican activist’s lawsuit claiming several Michigan counties have voter rolls riddled with ineligible voters is being panned by Michigan’s Department of State as a flawed play for attention.
Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau county clerks are among 16 listed as defendants alongside Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
Plaintiff Anthony Daunt, executive director of the conservative Michigan Free- dom Fund and treasurer of the Clinton County Republican Party, claims Benson broke federal law by failing to keep accurate voter rolls despite Daunt sending Benson notice to do so in February.
He also claims the counties haven’t followed federal laws, pointing to what he calls suspiciously high voter registrations. The suit claims that Leelanau County has 102 percent of its eligible population registered to vote, while other counties had percentages ranging from 90.2 — Cheboygan — and 97.5 — Antrim.
Those percentages came from current lists of registered voters, versus U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey figures from 2014-18, according to the complaint.
Daunt contrasted that to 2018 Census figures giving statewide voter registration as 73.4 percent.
“Retaining voter rolls bloated with ineligible voters harms the electoral process, heightens the risk of electoral fraud, and undermines public confidence in elections,” the complaint reads.
Messages to three attorneys representing Daunt received no response by Friday.
The claims ring hollow at Michigan’s Department of State.
Jake Rollow, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement that the lawsuit is an “attention-seeking move” combining old data, bad math and debunked claims in an attempt to “delegitimize our elections.”
“It compares old census data and registration numbers that make no attempt to distinguish between active and inactive registration, and asserts the false notion that voter registration rates should be low,” he said.
Michigan aims for 100 percent voter registration and has one of the best “motor-voter” systems in the U.S., where nearly all eligible voters who get a driver’s license also register to vote, Rollow said.
Daunt’s suit asks to have ineligible voters removed from the rolls prior to the 2020 election, according to the complaint.
Leelanau County Clerk Michelle Crocker said deceased voters already are. She hadn’t seen the complaint but disputed its broader claims and said the county carries out the required functions.
The suit’s claims about voter registration in Leelanau County seem to be manipulations based on a survey that Crocker, as a county resident herself, was never asked to take, and for which the data could give an incomplete picture depending on response rate.
They’re hardly claims that merit removing people from voter rolls, Crocker said.
“We have to be very careful with registered voters — we can’t just disenfranchise voters, we have to make sure it’s legitimate,” she said.
Voter roll figures from the Secretary of State show the total number of registered voters in 2018 exceeded estimates for that year’s voting-age populations in several of the 16 counties. But the number of active voters was lower in every case.
Grand Traverse County currently has 77,803 registered voters, county Clerk Bonnie Scheele said. Of those, 3,239 are flagged to be verified should they come to a polling place or mail in an absentee ballot. An additional 1,056 are deemed “challenged.”
County officials flag voters as needing verification if they believe the voter moved but hasn’t notified the county clerk. These voters will have to show identification proving their residency before their vote would be counted.
A voter is challenged if clerks have sent them a notice that their registration is being canceled, and the notice was returned as undeliverable.
County clerks in the five-county area get death record lists every month and they remove all voters who have died, Scheele said. Clerks put voters on a “verify” list if they receive notice from a credible source that someone has moved.
Election law states two election cycles must pass before that person can be removed from the voting rolls.
Scheele said she hadn’t received the complaint Thursday and would be referring it to legal counsel when she did.
Kalkaska County Clerk Deborah Hill said she hadn’t seen the suit yet and declined comment for now.
Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy, reached by email, said local clerks follow state and federal election law and declined to comment further.
Benzie County Clerk Dawn Olney wasn’t available to comment Friday.
Other counties named in the suit are Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Iosco, Keweenaw, Livingston, Mackinac, Otsego, Oakland, Roscommon and Washtenaw.
It’s not the first time Daunt’s taken Benson to court. He and 14 other plaintiffs sued Benson in 2019, challenging the legality of Michigan’s Citizen Redistricting Commission excluding applicants who are or were involved in partisan activities.
Court filings show that U.S. District Court Judge Janet T. Neff in November 2019 denied a preliminary injunction that would’ve stopped Benson from implementing the voter-approved commission.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.