Michigan SOS Ruth Johnson talks election security

Ruth Johnson
Ruth Johnson
Ruth Johnson


Like most of you, I like to use the latest technology to make life easier and to provide our customers the best possible service when they come to one of our Secretary of State branch offices.

But one area where I like good old-fashioned paper, people and processes is when we’re talking about added protections for our elections.

We’ve recently seen some national news stories about attempts to access voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona.

We have confirmed that Michigan systems were not affected.

In fact, the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget has a dedicated office that continually scans all of our network systems to detect and block hacking attempts and many other types of suspicious activity.

Other stories have questioned the security of the nation’s voting systems. These reports focus on touch-screen voting systems, which are not used in Michigan.

The articles also continuously mention that states using optical scan voting systems with paper ballots – like we do in Michigan – have the utmost in voting system security.

In Michigan, we have numerous checks and balances throughout our election system with protections built in, including:

Michigan’s use of paper ballots allows us to verify election results, confirming the high accuracy of our voting system.

Throughout the process, representatives from different political parties provide checks and balances, including confirming the eligibility of each voter; verifying that the number of voters matches the number of ballots tabulated; and overseeing the process for removing and securing ballots after the polls close, securing them in sealed ballot containers and delivering the election materials to a local receiving board.

We’ve also developed training videos and other resources to make sure clerks and election workers fully understand and consistently perform all Election Day tasks.

My team and I have implemented processes to clean up and maintain the statewide Qualified Voter File (QVF).

Over the past five years, we have removed almost 887,000 registered voters who are no longer qualified to vote in Michigan, such as those who have died or moved out of state, or who are noncitizens.

Our QVF is also backed up daily and permanently tracks any changes to individual records.

Each local city and township clerk conducts public testing on every piece of voting equipment before every election. After this public test, the tabulation program is secured and re-verified before it is used on Election Day.

Michigan’s 1,603 local and county clerks conduct elections using voting machines that are not connected to the Internet or any other electronic device while the polls are open.

Also note that there is not a centralized elections results computer in the state, as each county canvasses its own results in a very local and decentralized process.

Additional protection
As additional protection, results on Election Night are unofficial; they are not certified as official until the completion of a two-week canvass process that is conducted in each of our 83 counties, where each individual precinct’s results are reconfirmed by a bipartisan board.

Michigan is unique in that we have an election system made up of clerks, other election officials and poll workers from 83 counties, 280 cities and 1,240 townships.

While a large and complex structure, our training programs and consistent procedures ensure that every aspect of our system is secure and ready for this year’s critical election cycle.

In fact, USA Today named the Michigan Secretary of State’s office No. 1 in the country for registering voters at our branch offices and the Pew Charitable Trusts has continually recognized Michigan as one of the highest performing states for election performance.

I like to say that our system has both suspenders and a belt.

It may not be fashionable, but it has meant that Michigan will remain a consistently recognized national leader in election administration.

And one that provides voters with the confidence that our system is secure.