Clerk vote: 1 in 5 Detroit precincts can’t be recounted

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — City Clerk Janice Winfrey has prevailed in a general election recount that uncovered poll worker errors that prevented about 20 percent of reviewed precincts from being recounted.

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers on Friday certified the results at Cobo Center, declaring Winfrey as the official winner of the race.

But with the conclusion came more questions about election operations in Detroit amid the review of votes that turned up missing ballots and mismatched tabulations.

Winfrey’s challenger Garlin Gilchrist II sought the recount after losing to Winfrey by 1,482 votes on Nov. 7, saying his request was prompted by stories of “chaos and confusion” from absentee voters during election season.

He requested a recount of 100 absentee voter counting boards, as well as 60 precincts where problems were reported on Election Day. That represents more than 27 percent of the city’s total number of precincts.

Some of the recount findings had the city’s elections director on Friday threatening “disciplinary action” against the poll workers who were overseeing one precinct.

At the city’s precinct 156, which is St. John’s Presbyterian Church, only five of the 145 ballots cast on Election Day were in the recount container.

Department of Elections Director Daniel Baxter said during the board meeting Friday that poll workers at the church on E. Lafayette failed to place the ballots in the transfer case. “They placed them, unfortunately, in the supply box,” he said.

When asked by a board member what the remedy would be, Baxter vowed his office will take action.

“That entire board will probably be discharged and will not be able to work in future elections,” Baxter said. “We will regroup and look at some of the issues that occurred at this particular election and reinforce training for our poll worker staff.”

Wayne County Elections Director Delphine Oden has said that in some precincts, the number of ballots tabulated on Election Day did not match the number of ballots in the recount container.

Friday’s recount results didn’t include the votes from 16 absentee voter counting boards and 17 Election Day precincts because they could not be recounted.

Gilchrist called it “unacceptable” and “problematic” that 140 ballots were missing from precinct 156.

“There continues to be issues and reasons why people in Detroit do no trust the voting process,” he said.

Winfrey could not be reached for comment on Friday, but previously has touted beefed up poll worker training and new voting machines after a state audit of the November 2016 election revealed an “abundance of human errors” that caused mismatched vote totals.

Winfrey told The Detroit News on Thursday that there will always be a small amount of non-recountable precincts “because of human error” but said “the great majority are recountable.”

She also maintained that the recount would not change the election results.

“We are continuously improving and the outcome of the recount is going to reflect that,” she said.

In the Nov. 7 election, Winfrey received 50.6 percent of the votes to Gilchrist’s 49.1 percent, according to unofficial results.

Gilchrist said after the meeting that there are towns in Michigan where every absentee voting board and every Election Day precinct are recountable.

“I believe Detroiters are capable of the same thing,” Gilchrist said. “We need to have systems in place to make sure everyone is part of the process (and) the staff can function correctly so that we can have recountable precincts. It’s clear that the training has not improved enough.”

Moving forward, Gilchrist said he plans to continue to advocate for trust and transparency in Detroit’s voting process.

“It’s time for us to make sure we are going to continue to hold everybody that oversees an election in Detroit accountable for what they need to be doing to make sure we can trust the process,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Michigan Bureau of Elections audited 136 of the city’s most irregular precincts from the November 2016 election — “the worst of the worst,” it said — after a Wayne County canvass revealed “significant discrepancies” in the number of voters and ballots in 392 Detroit precincts.

The bureau “found no evidence of pervasive voter fraud,” according to the 24-page audit, but discovered more than half of 136 Detroit precincts had nearly 600 questionable votes, a total that was reduced to 216 questionable votes after extensive review.

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Twitter: @NicquelTerry

Staff writer Christine Ferretti contributed.