Detroit to re-evaluate Election Day poll workers

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city’s Department of Elections will re-evaluate its 3,000 poll workers ahead of this year’s gubernatorial election after a recount of the 2017 general election uncovered poll worker errors that prevented precincts from being recounted.

The department said in a release that it hopes the mandatory testing and re-evaluation will improve operations at its polling locations.

The poll worker testing is expected to run through early April at the east, west and downtown campuses of Wayne County Community College District.

“While the 2017 municipal elections demonstrated major operational improvements were achieved at the polling places, it is the goal of the Department of Elections to capitalize on the progress made last year by understanding deficiencies,” Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey said in a statement. “By re-evaluating each poll worker, the department can identify the issues and customize training to place more emphasis on them in training classes.”

Poll worker errors in the general election last year prevented 20 percent of reviewed precincts from being recounted in December.

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.

Department of Elections Director Daniel Baxter vowed after last year’s recount issues that his office would reinforce training for poll workers and take disciplinary action against those with poor performance.

In one incident, Baxter said, poll workers at a church on East Lafayette failed to place the ballots in the transfer case.

“They placed them, unfortunately, in the supply box,” he said.

Some poll workers were terminated after the recount issues were revealed, Baxter said.

“Any poll worker who didn’t properly place the ballots in the transfer case after they’ve been trained on several occasions to make sure that doesn’t happen ... all those people have been released from their duties and responsibilities,” Baxter said.

Elections officials declined to provide the number of poll workers who were dismissed.

Winfrey said the re-evaluation will vary based on the poll worker’s classification. The tests include multiple choice questions, reading comprehension and math.

“If they pass, life is good and they go on to training,” Winfrey said. “And if they don’t pass, they have to reapply and start from the beginning as a basic poll worker.”

The city has also revised the examination for new poll worker applicants, Baxter said. The updated version has more questions, he said.

Poll workers are typically paid $150-$200 for elections, officials say.

Winfrey’s office has been under fire since the 2016 presidential election when a Wayne County canvass revealed “significant discrepancies” in the number of voters and ballots in 392 Detroit precincts.

The Michigan Bureau of Election “found no evidence of pervasive voter fraud,” according to a 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.

Winfrey said last year the city purchased new voting machines and beefed up poll worker training to address the issues.

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Twitter: @NicquelTerry