State of Michigan

Michigan Absentee Ballot Signature Verification Challenge (RNC)

Republican National Committee v. Benson

Lawsuit filed by the Republican National Committee (RNC), Michigan Republican Party (MRP), National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and others against Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) and Michigan Director of Elections Jonathan Brater challenging the state’s absentee ballot signature verification system. Michigan law requires voters who wish to cast their vote by mail to sign applications for an absentee ballot. Local officials then verify the voter’s identity by comparing these signatures against the voter’s signature on file before approving the request for an absentee ballot. Once a Michigan voter casts an absentee ballot, local officials must again verify the voter’s signature on the return envelope of the ballot using the same signature matching process. 

The plaintiffs allege that the Michigan secretary of state’s recent “Signature Verification, Voter Notification, and Signature Cure” instructions that were sent to local election officials allow them to bypass this verification system by applying a “presumption of validity” to the signatures on absentee ballot applications and ballot return envelopes. The plaintiffs also challenge Rule 168.24 in the Michigan Administrative Code put into effect by the secretary of state, which allows election officials to consider several explanations when there are discrepancies in signatures. Plausible explanations under Rule 168.24 include “the possibility that a “voter’s signature may have changed slightly over time,” that a signature was “written in haste” or that the signature may have been made on a “rough, soft, uneven, or unstable surface.” The plaintiffs argue that these two practices violate the Michigan Constitution and the Michigan Election Law. The lawsuit ultimately asks the court to mandate that the secretary rescind her “Signature Verification Instructions” and prohibit her from implementing the “presumption of validity” or Rule 168.24 when verifying absentee ballot signatures prior to the state’s August 2024 primary and November 2024 general election. 

RESULT: On June 12, 2024, the Michigan Court of Claims struck down the secretary of state’s instructions to apply an “initial presumption of validity” when verifying signatures on absentee ballots. The court upheld Rule 168.24, meaning election officials will continue to consider several explanations when there are discrepancies in signatures.

Case Documents

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