A Michigan Republican state legislator appears to be under criminal investigation after forging absentee ballots at least twice since 2010.
State Senator Jon Bumstead of Newaygo County, Michigan, made election integrity a key issue of his campaign, and won reelection on November 8.
On Nov. 7, 2016, township clerk Jennifer Badgero, also a Republican, filed a report with the Michigan State Police in neighboring Kent County.
- Badgero said her first encounter with Bumstead over absentee ballots was in 2010 when he was running for state representative. She said she questioned the signature on his daughter’s absentee ballot, as it did not appear to match the one that was on file.
- Bumstead explained that his ex-wife must have signed it. The daughter was sent a new ballot and it came back with the correct signature.
In 2016, it happened again. Badgero said she received another absentee ballot from Bumstead’s daughter with what appeared to be the wrong signature. It clearly looked like his signature. She invalidated the ballot.
- Badgero’s amateur sleuthing found that Bumstead’s daughter was in Florida at the time.
So Badgero decided to take her complaint to the next county, since the Newaygo County Prosecutor at the time was the chair of the Newaygo County Republican Party.
The Michigan State Police in neighboring Kent County told her they were investigating it as a forgery.
“I said, ‘Well, it’s not forgery, it’s election fraud.’ I mean, that’s a different thing,” she said.
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request sent to the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office returned a single email, dated April 10, 2017, from Prosecutor Christopher Becker, who stated no crime was committed and no charges would be issued.
“The key language we based this decision on was, “a person who forges a signature…” Case law and the forgery statutes require an intent to defraud,” noted Becker in the email. “There is no intent to defraud here. He is simply attempting to assist his daughter in filling out an absentee ballot when she is unable to and doing so at her direction. The proper thing happened when the ballot was to be counted, it was invalidated, but this does not make it a crime.”
Becker said the state Attorney General had never heard of a similar case prosecuted as a crime, and the Secretary of State did not respond on the matter. Both the Attorney General and Secretary of State in 2017 were Republicans.
Current Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office was contacted for comment about the 2017 incident being declined prosecution. Benson’s office stated, “We decline to comment due to the pending criminal investigation.”