Voter Confusion 'Spoils' Absentee Ballots in Michigan

Michigan’s open primary system allows voters to cast ballots in either party’s primary, but a ballot is considered “spoiled” if it includes votes for candidates from both parties. The city of Farmington Hills, where a state Senate race was decided by 117 votes in the August 2014 primary, had 529 ballots rejected because they contained votes for both parties. This continued a trend in the city: 434 ballots were spoiled in the 2012 primary and 618 in 2010.

Oakland County, where Farmington Hills is located, had 5,666 spoiled ballots due to multiparty votes in 2014. The county clerk estimates that 6 to 8 percent of all ballots in the county are spoiled in a typical primary and that most of those are absentee ballots.

Michigan’s primary ballots include candidates from both parties along with instructions telling voters to vote for only one party.

If a ballot cast in person is spoiled, the optical scanner that tabulates the votes will catch the error and a poll worker can give the voter the option to cast a new ballot. But absentee voters do not have a way to correct a spoiled ballot. In these cases, the votes for both parties’ primary candidates are rejected, but any votes for nonpartisan races and proposals are counted. 

Follow us on Twitter using #electiondata and get the latest data dispatches, research, and news by subscribing today.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies


Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.