Four days after the Michigan Supreme Court denied a motion to restart a recount of the nearly 4.8 million ballots cast for president in the state, the Board of State Canvassers will meet to go over the lessons learned from the partial recount.
One of the chief things learned from the three days of recounting in 26 counties was the sheer number of ballots that couldn’t actually be recounted because of mistakes in the way the ballots were recorded or ballot containers that were improperly secured.
As a result, the state Bureau of Elections will be auditing 20 precincts in Detroit that couldn’t be recounted. Those ballots will be brought to Lansing for the audit this week that should last for at least three weeks, said Chris Thomas, director of elections for the state.
“We don’t have any suspicion of fraud. We generally approach this as human error,” Thomas said. “We’re going to take a look at them to make sure there’s not a need for further explanations. And we’ll be talking with Detroit staff as well going forward.”
One precinct in Detroit — precinct 152 — brought the problem to light when 52 ballots were discovered in the ballot container, but 307 votes had been logged in the poll book. The other 19 precincts that will be audited had similar problems.
“We were told by the Detroit Elections Bureau that a number of ballots were found in the tabulator bin and weren’t transported the way they were supposed to be,” said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. “That’s not how it’s supposed to work.”
Most of the mishaps occurred in Wayne County where 128 precincts, primarily in Detroit, couldn’t be recounted because the number of ballots didn’t match the number of voters in poll books. One precinct from Gibraltar couldn’t be recounted because the ballot container was sealed with duct tape after the zipper broke and a replacement container couldn’t be located.
Across the 26 counties that had begun recounting the ballots, 322 precincts couldn’t be recounted. The partial recount showed Democrat Hillary Clinton narrowed her loss to Republican Donald Trump by 102 votes after about 2.1 million votes were recounted.
But since it was stopped before it was completed, the election results certified by the Board of Canvassers on Nov. 28, which showed Trump winning by 10,704 votes over Hillary Clinton, stand.
The issues that came up in the recount will result in the state starting to investigating whether more substantial audits, which could include closer looks at the ballots, are needed in future elections. Currently, the state audits a sampling of precincts to check how accurately ballots were recorded and the security of ballot containers. After the recount, Thomas said, “we are going to take a serious look at expanding and doing some audits on various races.”
The recount was requested by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who finished fourth in Michigan and received 1.07% of the votes.She said she wanted to ensure the integrity of the election and said the problems discovered during the partial recount should have resulted in a full recount, if not a broad investigation of voting problems in the 2016 election.
Attorneys for Republican President-elect Donald Trump, the Michigan Republican Party and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed lawsuits to stop the recount.
After hearings held in state and federal court, the recount started Dec. 5 and lasted for three days before it was stopped Wednesday night by the U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith. The Michigan Supreme Court, officially pulled the plug on Stein’s hope that the recount could be restarted, when it upheld a ruling by the state Court of Appeals on Friday night that the recount should never have started in the first place.
An audit could shed some light on the cause of the problems in precincts that couldn’t be recounted. It also could give the state even more reasons to go ahead with a purchase of new election equipment that is expected to be ready for the next statewide election in 2018.
The state’s current voting system — paper ballots read by optical scanning machines — was purchased in 2004 and 2005 with federal funds authorized through the Help America Vote Act. The Secretary of State’s office is certifying a new generation of voting equipment for Michigan that will still use paper ballots and optical scanning equipment.
The state has held on to $30 million of money left over from the Help America Vote Act, and the Michigan Legislature has appropriated another $10 million. It will be used to replace a deteriorating system that has reached its useful lifespan.
On Election Day 2016, more than 80 optical scan readers broke down in Detroit, complicating the original count.
Counties, along with cities, villages and townships, will have to share in the cost of the new equipment. The precise costs won’t be known until the vendors are certified, Woodhams said.
The Board of Canvassers will meet at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in room 426 of the state Capitol.
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