Citizen analyst uncovers illegal deletions of voter history records

Mich. Secretary of State restores records, only to reveal apparent duplicate voters.

by Patrice Johnson

Dec. 14, 2021. Pure Integrity for Michigan Elections (PIME) announced that while analyzing Michigan’s voter database, supporter Louis Avallone uncovered the illegal deletions of more than one million voter history records. With the intercession of Mich. Senator Ruth Johnson’s office, Secretary of State SOS Benson’s office restored the voter histories, only to reveal apparent duplicate voters.

The path to discovery began last summer. Louis Avallone, an automotive industry engineer in Milford, was scouring Michigan’s voter rolls for errors and abnormalities. Consistent with other citizen-analyst findings over the past few months, the volunteer for PIME in collaboration with the Election Integrity Force had confirmed a number of disconcerting anomalies hidden within the Qualified Voter File, Michigan’s distributed database tying state’s 1,520 cities and townships to a statewide voter registration file maintained under the authority of the Secretary of State in Lansing (Chapter 2 Voter Registration – State of Michigan)

Lou and Michelle Avallone of Milford, pictured with their children Duyen, Lorenzo, and Leo during a recycling event in Huron Valley. Subject provided photo.

Over the past few weeks, Avallone had identified more than 2,500 active voter duplicates with the same name, birth year, and address but with multiple voter identification numbers across the state. A handful of the duplicates were located in his local Milford township, so he and clerk Holly Brandt were working diligently together to resolve them. Most appeared to stem from clerical errors and needed correction in order to eliminate potential misuse.

Out of curiosity, Avallone ran a search on his and his wife’s voting histories, and what popped onto his computer display sent a chill down his spine. 

“My voting record traced back to 2010, and Michelle’s records should have looked nearly identical to mine,” he recalled, his accent bearing traces of his upstate New York birthplace and early years in a small Boston suburb. “Instead, they only showed that she had voted in 2020.”

Avallone ran a spot check. To his alarm, voting histories intact on Oct. 1, 2020, had disappeared by Jan. 01, 2021. All told over the three-month period encompassing the November 2020 election, more than 65,000 voting histories were gone. Vanished. Further digging tied the systematic eliminations to registration record updates. 

Why Avallone’s findings are important. Complete voter histories are essential for determining the fairness of past and future elections. Without accurate voter histories, the ability to audit and remedy so-called anomalies in the QVF becomes next to impossible. 

“In the past,” Avallone explained, “all voter histories were preserved for several years after an election. But voters with registration record updates after the Nov. 3, 2020, election were appearing never to have voted in that election, or any previous election. Their voter record appeared to be lost, even though they were treated as active in the QVF.” 

By law, voting history records are to be preserved and subject to public inspection for a minimum of five years after an election, but with each registration record update, more voter histories were evaporating prematurely from Michigan’s Qualified Voter File. 

These mysterious deletions were more than merely inadvisable. They were illegal.

A hypothetical scenario. Imagine a woman—let’s call her Martha—applies for a driver’s license and is automatically registered to vote. Over the course of years, she never votes, and her record reflects that. Then Martha—or someone posing as her—changes her address online and applies to vote absentee. “Martha’s” ballot is mailed to a new address, and she is recorded as having voted in the election. Soon after, the imposter submits an online change of address within the state on Martha’s behalf. When Martha’s voting history silently and permanently disappears from the QVF, evidence of her stolen ‘participation’ in the election evaporates into thin air–unlawfully scrubbed from the official record. The voting histories of both the real Martha and the identity-stolen Martha are now invisible to future audits. Multiply this Martha by the 20% of Michigan’s roughly 8 million registered voters who never actually vote, and we’re talking real numbers, more than a million potential phantom voters.

The problem gets worse. Phantom Marthas remain on the books as qualified voters. According to Patrice Johnson, PIME chair, “Multiple, ‘active’ voter IDs hide like spiders in the dark, waiting to snag ballots in the next election.” She said PIME data analysts are finding dozens of active voters who share a single, one-bedroom apartment address or had ballots mailed to MSU dorms, closed due to COVID. “Then there are voters claiming to live along streets demolished a decade ago.” 

PIME volunteer analysts are uncovering stale addresses from the annual 25% turnover of Michigan’s 500,000-plus college students, she said, citing Univstats,  “Secretary of State Benson’s office mailed absentee ballot applications to registered voters, and the post office returned as many as 600,000 of them, marked ‘undeliverable.’ I’ve heard Senator Ruth Johnson ask the SOS’s office, multiple times, to explain what happened to those returned applications. Were they removed from the Qualified Voter File, or did they become part of a slush fund that ballot fraudsters dipped into?” 

To top it off, she said, “Michigan has no real-time system to check for residency, let alone citizenship. “Our state exchanges driver’s license change-of-address information with only 16 of the nation’s 50 states. This creates a pool of registered voters who aren’t really residents. It throws open the door to ballot harvesting.”

Green-card holders who receive social security numbers may be mistaken as citizens. “When a person applies to vote and doesn’t provide a birth certificate, Michigan verifies citizenship by asking the applicant to sign a form and swear they are citizens. That’s attestation, not verification,” Johnson stated. “These examples paint a dismal picture of the quality of the QVF. It needs an independent, forensic audit. Plain and simple.”

Next steps. Avallone was a detail guy, a quiet father of three. He was hardly the sort to jump to conclusions and far from the political type. But his Catholic upbringing would not allow him to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing, especially to offenses that threatened election integrity, arguably the core component to a free society. 

“I was curious that records were disappearing hand over fist,” Avallone said, especially in light of the fact that concerned citizens across the state were simultaneously poking holes in Michigan’s voter rolls.

He contacted PIME, and on Nov. 1, 2021, sent a letter notifying Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Jonathan Brater, Michigan Bureau of Elections Director, of illicit disappearances. Letter to Sec. of State Benson and Dir. Brater re: illegal deletions of voter records. Among the parties he copied was Mich. Senator Ruth Johnson, herself a former secretary of state.

A few weeks passed. With no response forthcoming from the SOS, Avallone and Johnson decided to issue a Call to Action, asking PIME’s 500-plus supporters to contact their legislators and the SOS. That should prompt her to take corrective measures, they hoped. Before sounding the alarm, Avallone FOIAed the most current 2021 QVF. Within two weeks, the Dec. 1, 2021, QVF dataset arrived.

Avallone was pleased to see the missing information was restored. The two graphs below depict the combined 2016 and 2018 November general elections. These two elections alone had more than one million voting history records deleted and then restored on or before Dec. 1, 2021: 

“The nearly ¾ million voter history records for this election, suppressed in FOIA QVF datasets for most of the past two years, appear to have been restored in the latest dataset created 01Dec2021,” Avallone wrote. Graphs by Louis Avallone.

On a hunch, Johnson checked with Sen. Ruth Johnson’s office, and the next day, Dec. 7, the senator’s Chief of Staff replied, yes, they had gone to bat on the problem. Plus, the Senator’s office was going a step further to implement PIME’s and Avallone’s recommendation to amend current statute and preserve voter histories for 10 years, instead of the current 5-year requirement.

Hi Patrice,

We did speak with the Secretary of State about the missing voter histories and worked to make sure they were restored.  The department’s official response was that this was a technical issue and not done on purpose. 

Also, I just put a bill request in for the changes to the law suggested in this email on retaining voter histories! 

Thanks so much!

 —Garrett Wheat, Chief of Staff to Sen. Ruth Johnson 

The restored files provide glimpse at double voting. The January 2021 dataset, afflicted by the illegal QVF deletions, indicated no multiple ballots cast in the 2020 general election. But the newly corrected Dec. 1, 2021, dataset with the restored voting histories painted a different picture.

“I found records of 26 pairs of duplicate cast ballots,” Avallone explained. “Each of the duplicates included one record for an absentee ballot and another for an in-person ballot.” In other words, each duplicate voter was recorded as having submitted both an absentee ballot and an election-day ballot. Plus, as Avallone noted, “Both ballots were counted in the final election results.” 

The old and corrected tallies don’t match. The Michigan secretary of state website indicatThe old and corrected tallies don’t match. The Michigan secretary of state website indicates that 5.56 million ballots were cast during the Nov. 3, 2020, election. But the Jan. 1, 2021, QVF contains a shy 5.48 million voting history records. The ‘corrected’ Dec. 1, 2021, dataset shows 5.46 million, 100,000 votes short of the actual number cast—and counted—in the election.

The unlawfully removed and recently restored data brought to light evidence of possible double voting, “so it is reasonable to assume that nearly 100,000 lawfully, yet inadvisably, removed voting history records might yield similar findings,” Avallone noted.  

“This possibility highlights the critical need to re-establish the preservation of all voting history records in FOIA-available QVF datasets,” he said, “not just those of current registrants.”

As the graph below shows, for nearly 20 years, voting histories were retained. Then in early 2017, the QVF record retention and reporting strategy appears to have been altered. It currently provides only the voting history records for registered voters at the time of the FOIAed QVF dataset’s creation. 

The shift in reporting makes it nearly impossible to obtain FOIAed QVF datasets with complete voting history records for all participants in any election. In fact, the data show the lawful but undesirable yearly removal of roughly 50,000 to 100,000 voting history records for an election due to voter attrition, death, or relocation out of state.

In a follow up letter to Secretary of State Benson, Avallone wrote, “As you have discretionary authority over QVF management and improvements, I urge you to consider preserving and disclosing voting history records in the manner similar to 01Sep2016 and prior FOIA datasets.” 

Voting History Records by Elections 2004 through 2020

For nearly 20 years, the QVF tracked voting histories. Then in early 2017, its record retention For nearly 20 years, the QVF tracked voting histories. Then in early 2017, its record retention and reporting strategy appears to have been altered to provide only the voting history records for registered voters at the time of the FOIAed QVF dataset’s creation. This shift in reporting makes it nearly impossible to obtain FOIAed QVF datasets with complete voting history records for all participants in any election. This lawful but undesirable removal of deceased or moved out-of-state voters accounts for the elimination of 50,000 to 100,000 voting history records for an election per year.

Fortunately, physical records still exist for the November 2020 election and more recent elections. “Otherwise,” Avallone said, “the ability to further investigate and confirm the presence of possible crimes beyond just these digital records could have been rendered impossible.”

Pure Integrity for Michigan Elections is a grassroots group committed to helping restore election integrity to Michigan elections. The group works to achieve maximum transparency, checks and balances, ethics, and integrity in election law with an eye toward closing gaps and opportunities for abuse by those who would undermine free and fair elections. PIME started in January 2021with a handful of concerned citizens and has grown to more than 500 supporters, located primarily in Ingham, Eaton, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Jackson counties. It is a peaceful, issue-based, nonpartisan political movement that welcomes all who support election integrity and the US and Michigan Constitutions.

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Graph by Louis Avalllone

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