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Michigan: Protections Against Intimidation of Voters and Election Workers

This resource details state laws and policies protecting against the intimidation of voters and election workers and the disruption of the voting process.

Published: October 28, 2022
View the entire Laws Protecting Voters and Election Workers from Intimidation series

Voters in Michigan have the right to vote free from intimidation under federal and state law. footnote1_531spdl 1 18 U.S.C. §§ 594, 241; 52 U.S.C. § 10101(b); Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.932(a), (d). The federal protections that apply to all states are explained here. The following actions are specifically prohibited by Michigan law:

  • Attempting to directly or indirectly influence another person’s vote or deter or interrupt them from voting. footnote2_bmu6g6r 2 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.932(a).
  • Obstructing or attempting to obstruct another person from voting. footnote3_pqrascb 3 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.932(d).
  • Challenging a voter’s qualifications “for the purpose of annoying or delaying” the voter. footnote4_jz4m84m 4 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.727(3).

The below addresses the laws and policies that serve as guardrails against specific threats of intimidation.

Voter Intimidation by Poll Workers

Poll workers in Michigan are called “election inspectors” and must meet several requirements to serve in this role:

  • Poll workers must be qualified and registered voters in Michigan, have good reputations, and have sufficient education and clerical ability to perform the duties of a poll worker. footnote5_59c9md4 5 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.677.
  • Poll workers must be appointed by the board of election commissioners. footnote6_x1ntha0 6 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.674(1)–(2).
  • Individuals cannot serve as poll workers if they have been convicted of felonies or election crimes footnote7_x0q0ibc 7 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.677(3).
  • Poll workers must receive training and pass an exam before they work an election. footnote8_ufqah39 8 Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 168.677, 168.683.
  • Poll workers are required to take an oath to uphold state and federal law. footnote9_rrllg6x 9 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.680. Pursuant to this oath, clerks may refuse to appoint applicants who demonstrate an unwillingness to follow applicable laws and instructions.

In addition to federal and state voter intimidation laws, Michigan regulates the conduct of poll workers:

  • Poll workers serve as impartial government employees and must answer to election officials, not political parties or party officials. footnote10_m3hhunc 10 Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 168.674, 168.682. A poll worker who fails to follow the directions of their designated election official may be dismissed.
  • If a poll worker disrupts the voting process, another poll worker may contact election officials or law enforcement to eject the disruptor from the polling place. footnote11_9oltywb 11 Mich. Bureau of Elections, Election Officials’ Manual, ch. 11 at 39.

The Brennan Center and All Voting is Local published a detailed resource on the rules and constraints for Michigan poll workers here.

Challenges to Voter Eligibility at the Polls

In Michigan, challenges to voters’ eligibility may be brought by poll workers, other voters, or challengers/poll watchers. Michigan law limits the kinds of challenges that can be brought by any of these individuals:

  • No individual may challenge a qualified and registered voter “indiscriminately,” “without good cause,” or “for the purpose of annoying or delaying voters.” footnote12_zcoiewo 12 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.727(1), (3).
  • Challenges cannot be made that intimidate or deter voters from, or interfere with, the exercise of their right to vote. footnote13_3hl0xkw 13 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.932(a), (d).
  • Any challenge must be based on knowledge or “good reason to suspect” that a voter is not registered or qualified to vote. footnote14_eyyskuh 14 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.727(1).
  • Challenges issued against voters must be directed to the chairperson of the precinct board before the voter is issued a ballot. footnote15_bdeorqy 15 Mich. Bureau of Elections, Election Officials’ Manual, ch. 11 at 32 (emphasis added).

If an individual disrupts the voting process while making a challenge, poll workers may contact election officials or law enforcement to eject the disruptor from the polling place.

Even when challenged, a voter may continue to vote as long as they answer questions regarding their qualifications as a voter, which must be limited to citizenship, age, residency, and date of registration, and submit to an oath administered by a poll worker. footnote16_0ylmrdl 16 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.729; Mich. Bureau of Elections, Election Officials’ Manual, ch. 11 at 32–33. If the voter’s answers show that they are a qualified voter in that precinct, the voter is entitled to receive a ballot and vote. footnote17_1sds1pj 17 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.729. The poll worker is required to make a written report regarding the challenge. footnote18_d0ymolw 18 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.727(2).

Coordinated Canvassing of Voters

While Michigan law does not explicitly prohibit canvassing, both state and federal law prohibit canvassing efforts that are used to intimidate voters. Any voter who receives a visit from a privately organized canvassing group does not have to answer any questions and should report any incidents of intimidation to their local officials. Additionally, it is illegal in Michigan to falsely represent oneself as a public officer or employee. footnote19_7ptp8y2 19 Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.217c.

Intimidation by Poll Watchers

Michigan has both “poll watchers” and “challengers” who may observe the conduct of elections at the polls.

Anyone, other than a candidate for elective office, can serve as a poll watcher and may observe elections in Michigan. Poll watchers must remain in a “Public Viewing Area” designated by election workers and may not issue challenges or handle election equipment or materials.

Challengers must meet specific requirements to serve in this role:

  • The challenger must be a qualified voter, a noncandidate, and not a poll worker. footnote20_3n3xzmb 20 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.730(2).
  • A challenger must be designated by a political party, incorporated organization, or organized committee of citizens. These entities can designate no more than two challengers per precinct and no more than one per counting board. footnote21_lyz9icu 21 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.730(1).
  • Challengers are required to take and sign a written oath to keep confidential information regarding the tallying of absent voters until the polls are closed. footnote22_26hajt9 22 Mich. Bureau of Elections, Election Officials’ Manual, ch. 11 at 29.
  • Challengers must carry an identification card issued by their appointing political party, group, or organization. footnote23_f5gn6wf 23 Id.

Michigan law provides for what challengers and poll watchers can and cannot do at the polls:

Poll workers may remove from a polling place any poll watcher or challenger who abuses their role.

Intimidation of Poll Workers and Election Officials

Individuals are limited in their ability to intimidate election officials by Michigan law:

  • Challengers and poll watchers are forbidden from interfering with or unduly delaying the work of poll workers. footnote28_lanfph7 28 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.727(3).
  • Any person who knowingly and willfully obstructs a public officer acting in the performance of their duties is guilty of a felony. footnote29_gtrxfjg 29 Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.479(1).
  • Election workers possess full authority to maintain peace and enforce obedience to their lawful commands during an election and the canvassing of votes. footnote30_ukugrlj 30 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.678.
  • If an individual disrupts the voting process while making a challenge, poll workers may contact election officials or law enforcement to eject the disruptor from the polling place. footnote31_igb5o8g 31 Mich. Bureau of Elections, Election Officials’ Manual, ch. 11 at 39.

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