Michigan Recount Halted As Mass Voting Irregularities Uncovered in Detroit

Wayne County, Michigan records showed voting machines in more than 1/3 of all Detroit precincts registered more votes than they should have during the November election, The Detroit News reported this week.

Detailed reports from the office of Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett show optical scanners at 248 of the city’s 662 precincts, or 37 percent, tabulated more ballots than the number of voters tallied by workers in the poll books. Voting irregularities in Detroit have spurred plans for an audit by Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office, Elections Director Chris Thomas (pictured above left) told reporters on Monday.

The heavily Democratic Wayne County, home to Detroit, was one of the few counties Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won in the state of Michigan.

And with 115% of all votes counted, Clinton won the county by a substantial margin of over 37 points. But Republican President-elect Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes or 47.5% to 47.3%.

Apparently the discrepancies were found as a result of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein‘s recount efforts which started last week but were shut down on Friday by the Michigan Supreme Court. According to an unusually restrictive Michigan state law, recounts are not allowed to proceed in “unbalanced” precincts where the number of ballots don’t tie out to the number of voters. Overall, state records show 322 precincts in the 26 counties that started retabulating the votes couldn’t be recounted because they were “unbalanced” or had broken seals. 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 obtained. The city of Detroit was by far the worst, with 392 “unbalanced” precincts, or nearly 60%, that were not allowed to conduct a recount, two-thirds of which had “too many votes.”

“There’s always going to be small problems to some degree, but we didn’t expect the degree of problem we saw in Detroit. This isn’t normal,” said Krista Haroutunian, chairwoman of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers.

Republican state senators called for an investigation in Wayne County, including one precinct where a Detroit ballot box contained only 52 of the 307 ballots listed in a poll book, according to an observer for Trump.

City officials have told state officials that ballots in that precinct were never taken out of a locked bin below the voting machine tabulator on Election Day, a spokesman for the Secretary of State told The Detroit News.

“That’s what we’ve been told, and we’ll be wanting to verify it,” Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said. “At any rate, this should not have happened.”

Further complicating the original count, more than 80 optical scan readers, which are about 12 years old, broke down in Detroit on Election Day.

The multiple voting irregularities and the sheer number of ballots that couldn’t be recounted because of unexplained discrepancies between the number of voters and the amount of ballots, as well as improper securing of ballot containers, have spurred an audit by the state, with state officials planning to examine 20 “unbalanced” Detroit precincts where ballot boxes opened during the recount had fewer ballots than poll workers had recorded on Election Day.

“We don’t have any suspicion of fraud. We generally approach this as human error,” said Chris Thomas, director of elections for the state. “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.”

“This is an example of why we need to conduct a recount in the first place and verify the vote,” said Margy Levinson, a spokesperson for Jill Stein’s recount campaign. “These are the kinds of issues discovered during a recount that can then be fixed in future elections.”

State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, called the planned audit “a good place to start” that could help determine whether Detroit elections workers “followed the correct procedures” or “fraudulent procedures” on Election Day.

Whether a poll book mismatch suggests there are too few or too many ballots in any given precinct, “it’s concerning,” said Colbeck, who spearheaded the request for probe. “It’s supposed to reconcile to zero.”

Washtenaw County Elections Director Ed Golembiewski said discrepancies tend to “even themselves out” — there are usually about as many precincts whose machines report more votes than fewer votes. But he said the large number of precincts with over-votes in Detroit isn’t necessarily significant.

“It’s usually human error,” Golembiewski said. “I have not seen anyone intentionally try to run an extra ballot. You aren’t going to rig an election three ballots at a time. You’re going to need a far more systematic and thorough approach than a couple of people here and there stuffing three extra ballots.”

In Washtenaw County, 23 of 150 precincts, about 15 percent, could not be recounted. Other counties with high percentages of unrecountable precincts include Branch (27 percent); Cass (24 percent); Wayne (24 percent) and Ionia (24 percent).

Here’s a breakdown of the irregularities in Detroit’s 662 precincts:

  • 236 precincts in balance — equal numbers of voters counted by workers and machines
  • 248 precincts with too many votes and no explanation (77 were 1 over; 62 were 2 over, 37 were 3 over, 20 were 4 over, 52 were 5 or more over).
  • 144 precincts with too few votes and no explanation (81 were 1 under, 29 were 2 under; 19 were 3 under; 7 were 4 under; 8 were 5 or more under)
  • 34 precincts out of balance but with an explanation

Among the discrepancies found by Wayne County were:

  • 77 precincts +1 vote
  • 62 precincts +2 votes
  • 37 precincts +3 votes
  • 20 precincts +4 votes
  • 52 precincts +5 or more votes
  • 81 precincts -1 vote
  • 29 precincts -2 votes
  • 19 precincts -3 votes
  • 7 precincts -4 votes
  • 8 precincts -5 or more votes

Detroit News has reported on further irregularities involving the whereabouts of the poll books. According to a memo from Wayne County election officials released to Elections Director Chris Thomas, 95 poll books from the 662 precincts in Wayne County were not available at the start of the canvass, which began the day after the Nov. 8 election, with several days passing before they were delivered to canvassers. Five of those poll books, which contain the names of voters and ensure the integrity of elections, are still presumably missing, having never been delivered to county canvassers.

The memo from county elections official Jennifer Redmond to the state shows poll books in 101 Detroit precincts were not delivered in sealed envelopes, as the law stipulates. Additionally, poll books in 17 precincts were missing seal numbers from ballot boxes, also required by state law.

Last week, city elections director Daniel Baxter put a majority of the blame on what he called outdated, decade-old voting machines, of which 87 of them broke on Election Day. The city had a two-page ballot, and frequent jams led to inaccurate counts when workers failed to reset counters, he claimed.

A Detroit News analysis of statewide recount tallies, however, found other counties using the same optical scanner performed just fine.

With the exception of Wayne County, counties that used the Election Systems & Software M-100 voting machine had fewer unrecountable precincts, at 6.2%, than counties using the Sequoia Optechs (11%) and Premier Accuvotes (10%), according to The Detroit News’ analysis.

The M100s, which are used in 55 percent of Michigan’s precincts, have a spotty reputation. In 2008, then-Oakland County Clerk Ruth Johnson, who is now secretary of state, urged federal officials to investigate after the optical scanners improperly counted 8 percent of ballots during testing.

“The same ballots, run through the same machines, yielded different results each time,” Johnson wrote to the Election Assistance Commission, an agency that administers federal payments to states to buy voting machines.

Johnson wrote that vendors blamed dust and debris inside the machines. A Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency report noted the machines still run on the Windows XP operating system, which Microsoft has not sold since 2008 and for which it stopped providing support and security updates in 2014.

Gisgie Gendreau, a spokeswoman for Johnson’s office, said in an email the secretary of state is confident in the accuracy of the M100 voting machines used in Detroit and other parts of the state “assuming they are properly coded for the particular election.”

There were fewer than 30 machines that required Election Day maintenance, she said. The department pays for half of the maintenance costs in Detroit and other jurisdictions with electronic poll books.

“The issues we have seen from Detroit are issues with too many or not enough ballots in the ballot container, few of which were actually reconciled either in the county canvass or in the recount, meaning they may or may not be out of balance,” she explained. “The machine logic software (firmware) would have no bearing on this.”

State Rep. Fred Durhal III, D-Detroit, said the state “has a responsibility to take a closer look” at Detroit.

It’s uncertain how many extra votes were counted in Detroit, since tallies were off by five or more votes in 52 Detroit precincts. County officials have so far refused to release the exact number of discrepancies in each precinct. But the county records do show exact numbers for precincts that were off by four or fewer votes.

Of the data available, though, machines tallied at least 388 more ballots, according to The Detroit News. That’s 0.16% of the 248,000 ballots cast in Detroit, a city that voted for Clinton 95% to 3% over Trump.

“I’m not happy with how Detroit handled this election at all,” said Krista Hartounian, chairwoman of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, which certified the election.

“We had been seeing improvement, but this one was different. This one was off.”

Haroutunian said she didn’t know what to make of the trend toward over-counting; Detroit poll workers offered no explanation, either. The city had another 34 “unbalanced” precincts, but they included explanations for the discrepancies, so they qualified to be recounted under state law. The law asserts that original results stand in “unbalanced” precincts that didn’t provide adequate explanation for the discrepancies, since they can’t be recounted.

Hayley Horowitz, a New York-based attorney working on the Jill Stein recount campaign, indicated that Detroit’s problems point to larger issues of funding and fairness. “Unsurprisingly, a lot of these problems are concentrated in urban areas,” she said.

“The amount of funding and training and care that goes into these communities is very different. It seems that votes in some communities are treated with less respect.”

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