Michigan Passes Laws Restricting Election Recounts for Fraud Allegations and Wide-Margin Victories

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) attends a press conference in Detroit in 2021. (City of Detroit/Flickr)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed bills into law on Monday that will prohibit election recounts conducted due to allegations of fraud and for counts that would not impact election results.

Whitmer said in a statement that this supports “fair and free elections that make sure the winner can take office without unnecessary interference.”

Senate Bill 603 includes numerous provisions regulating election recounts. Notably, the law states a recount is not an “investigation or an audit of the conduct of an election,” and it “does not assess the qualifications of electors participating in an election or the manner in which ballots are applied for or issued to electors.”

Also, the legislation will not allow an election board to investigate allegations of fraud; instead, they must refer the matter to the prosecuting attorney of the county or the state attorney general.

Candidate or ballot question committees — organizations that put issues on the ballot for people to vote on — can only submit petitions for recounts “for precincts that have an imbalance between the ballots collected and ballots issued,” according to a statement about the legislation.

That discrepancy must be large enough that if the votes in question were reallocated to the losing side, it could flip the results of the election. Otherwise, a recount cannot be requested.

In an analysis of the bill, the state House Committee on Elections explained that in the 2016 presidential race, Green Party candidate Jill Stein requested a recount of ballots in Michigan, even though she only received 1.07% of the vote. 

Also, in 2022, petitions were filed requesting recounts of two ballot proposals due to alleged voter fraud. Neither petition requested a recount of enough votes to impact the results, and “Although many feel that these recounts were frivolous, they were required to be conducted because the petitions were filed legally,” according to the bill analysis.

The bill also increases the amount of money someone must pay to request a recount, so that the municipality can afford to carry it out effectively and accurately. Also, by charging more money for larger victory margins, the state discourages candidates and ballot question committees from requesting recounts for contests without tight margins.

State House Republicans have expressed their opposition to these provisions, including State Rep. Ann Bollin (R).

 “I understand the importance of preventing frivolous recounts, but we must also acknowledge the rights of candidates and voters to ensure they have confidence in the results,” Bollin said in a statement. “By making recounts too expensive, we are effectively pricing out local candidates from ensuring the accuracy of election results and diminishing the public’s confidence in the process.”

The bill also has a provision stating that any recount must be filed within 48 hours after the certification of the votes by the board of county canvassers, which will prevent election results from being held up for long periods of time.

Then, the law establishes that “Any individual who willfully interferes with a recount or activities of a recount is guilty of a felony.”

Senate Bill 604, a companion bill, amends the state’s sentencing guidelines to reflect this change and states that this felony is punishable by a sentence of up to five years.

“Today, with the signing of our common-sense recount law reforms, we are strengthening our democracy and ensuring that we reach the most accurate count of the ballots possible during a recount process,” said state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D) in a statement on Monday. “These laws achieve critical goals of protecting the security of every vote, modernizing our recount process, and uplifting the voices of Michigan voters.”

Read Whitmer’s statement on the bills here.

Read S.B. 603 here.

Read S.B. 604 here.