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Why Are Absentee Ballots Tipping so Many Races in Muskegon?

By Matt Johnson

November 14, 2022

There is a disturbing pattern in the Muskegon County November election results. (See the pdf of the final results from the County Clerk here.) The pattern is that Republicans win key races in the in-person vote, but that win is overturned by a tide of absentee ballots. It is a consistent pattern.

For County Commissioner District 4, Republican Dan Potts won the in-person vote (56%), but absentee votes threw the victory to Democrat Marcia Hovey-Wright (61% of absentee votes). The combined result was a Hovey-Wright victory with 52% of the vote. Absentee ballots tipped a close race.

For County Commissioner District 5, Republican David Dursema won the in-person vote (53%), but absentee votes threw the victory to Democrat Charles Nash (71% of absentee votes). The combined result was a Nash victory with 57% of the vote. Absentee ballots tipped a close race.

For County Commissioner District 6, Republican Doug Brown won the in-person vote (51%), but absentee votes threw the victory to Democrat Jessica Cook (65% of the absentee votes). The combined result was a Cook victory with 56% of the vote. Absentee ballots tipped a close race.

These three races tipped the majority on the County Commission away from a Republican majority and onto a Democrat majority, 4:3. The control of the entire County Board was decided by absentee ballots that tipped the vote at the margin in these 3 districts.

We see the strangeness of absentee results in other Commission races as well. In District 3, Republican Michelle Hazecamp won the in-person vote at 71%; Democrat Ashley Podein won the absentee portion of the vote at 53%; it just wasn’t enough to overcome Hazecamp’s massive victory with in-person voters. Likewise in District 1, Republican Kim Cyr won the in-person vote with 64%, and Democrat Bruce Froelich won the absentee vote with 57%. It just wasn’t enough to overcome Cyr’s win with in-person voters.

In five out of seven County Commission Districts, the Republican won the in-person vote, and the Democrat won the absentee vote within the same district. This makes no sense. The votes are coming from the same electorate. The electorate in a given district lives in the same area. Folks generally see the same signs, attend the same churches and schools, shop at the same places, view the same local news sources, and talk to local friends and family frequently; there is a fabric of commonality within such a community. That fabric is what the process of forming the district lines is required to honor in the first place, which is why the district lines are drawn where they are. So if that is the case, then why would the outcomes of in-person voting and absentee voting be completely opposite rather than roughly equivalent as we would reasonably expect? In terms of plain common sense, we have to expect that in-person results and absentee results should be roughly the same. This is indeed borne out in many nonpartisan races. For example, Village of Ravenna Trustee: Kent Boersma had 37% in-person/34% absentee—not too far off. Steve Dohm 31% versus 34%—again not too far off. And Steven Dodson had exactly the same percentage of the vote in-person versus absentee: 32.07%. If the outcomes wildly favoring Democrats in absentee ballots are “normal” and “just a commonplace pattern of how people vote,” then why do we see nonpartisan races like this one with a relatively normal correspondence between the in-person and the absentee vote? Many of Muskegon County’s school board races also show what we should consider normal: a rough equivalence between the in-person results and the absentee results. Indeed we find this in Coopersville, Fruitport, Holton, Muskegon Public, Orchard View, and Ravenna. Yet in partisan races, the pattern of “Republican-wins-until-the-absentee-ballots-show-up” seems to never end. It shows up in Muskegon’s results for Governor, Attorney General, 2nd District Representative in Congress, State Senator 32nd District, Member of the State Board of Education, Regent of the University of Michigan, Trustee of Michigan State University, and Governor of Wayne State University. Overall, we see that the absentee numbers do not seem to come from the same public as the in-person votes. The voting outcomes express the Will of the People in opposite directionsdepending on the voting modality, whether the ballot was filled out in advance or day-of. But demographic and voting patterns are not so grossly different just because a ballot gets dropped in a box ahead of time rather than fed through a scanner day-of. Why are election results so consistently being tipped by absentee ballots? To top it all off, consider the proposals. Proposal 2, big shocker, shows that 73% of absentee ballots vote in favor of absentee ballot systems; yet in-person, the vote is split almost perfectly 50-50 (50.21% vs. 49.79%). That proposal would have FAILED in Muskegon if not for the absentees.

And the vile and pernicious Proposal 3 also FAILED in Muskegon with in-person voters, by a tiny margin (49.61% vs 50.39%). But that loss was reversed by absentees coming in at a whopping 66% in favor. There is no way a community is that schizophrenic, that split-personality. Are we supposed to believe that the same county is split almost perfectly 50-50 on the proposal when walking into polling place, but then extravagantly in favor of it when dropping a ballot in a box? This is as big as any red flag could be.

The conclusion is an inescapable mathematical fact: Democrats control election outcomes in Muskegon County using absentee ballots. The typical response we hear about this—“historically Democrats tend to vote absentee more often”—is dismissive and without substance, certainly without enough substance to explain this extreme pattern. In fact, we should expect just the opposite. If Democrats indeed hold democracy as their central political value—which means holding sacred the right to vote and the Will of the People faithfully expressed through the voting process—then they would hold it as a solemn responsibility to show up on election day to vote in person, as an expression of the importance they attach to the vote. Democrats should turn out disproportionately in person to vote. But instead we see that the turnout for in-person voting is weaker on the part of Democrats compared to Republicans. Another red flag. It is important to remember that the in-person vote is managed by members of the voting public who are hired for the day to work at the polls and, even though the vote machines are “black boxes” we cannot see into, the physical space of the polling location is visible to the public during and after the close of polls. Everyone knows they are being watched. However, the absentee ballot count is conducted often out of public view, and often by government employees or elected officials. For example, in Roosevelt Park, the City Manager and the Mayor have been known to count the absentee ballots. Even setting aside the behind-closed-doors issue, If some absentee ballots are fraudulent, the person running them through the machine may not have any way to know it, since the ballots do not show any personal voter information once they are removed from the envelope. Furthermore, the ballot envelopes would have been vetted by the clerk; but the clerk may not even know if a ballot is fraudulent since she is reliant on voter registration data that comes from outside her office (from the State system) and which she does not exclusively control. If we wish to truly safeguard the democratic process—the process of electing our representatives as an authentic expression of the Will of the People—it seems that accountability with regard to absentee ballots is a key focal point. And, of course, accountability with regard to voter registration database that legitimizes the absentee ballots that seem to come from outside the legitimate electorate. It seems that in the current system, Republicans have a winning strategy when the in-person vote set the results so far from the 50%-mark that the win can’t be overthrown by absentee ballots. But relatively few localities are going to unfold that way due to basic demographics, and they are usual rural rather than urban/suburban. On the other hand, absentee Democrats had a lot of Republican victories in Muskegon that they needed to overcome with their can’t-be-bothered-to-show-up ballots. They say the Blue Ridge Mountains look blue from far away, but tree green up close. Maybe Muskegon looks blue from far away when, on closer inspection, it is indeed quite red.

For complete Muskegon County 2022 Election results, click here.


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