Detroit clerk says nearly 10,000 poll workers ready for election

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

After an August primary election that left many Detroiters unsure of the integrity of absentee voting, the Detroit Department of Elections has trained thousands of poll workers and bought additional technology to protect voters' ballots for the Nov. 3 election.

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey holds a press conference to discuss preparations for the presidential election at the Central Counting Board location inside the TCF Center, in Detroit, October 29, 2020.

On Thursday, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said nearly 10,000 people have been trained as poll workers and ballot inspectors and 25 high-speed tabulators will be used to process and count a "record number" of absentee ballots. 

Starting the day before Election Day, ballot inspectors will begin a process that will end with the counting of an anticipated 160,000 absentee ballots by Wednesday, she said. 

" ... we want individuals who are unsure about the process, who don't know if their vote really counts, we want to assure you that your vote does count," Winfrey said. "What we don't want to do is discourage people from voting and making them unsure of the process."

The absentee ballot counting process, which will be done at the Central Counting Board in the TCF Center, will begin at 10 a.m. Monday with inspectors verifying absentee ballots with each voter's information. This verifying step is the only preparation that can be done for absentee ballots ahead of Election Day, per state law. 

On Election Day, those verified absentee ballots will go through four more ballot inspectors before reaching the high-speed tabulator. The high-speed tabulator will be processing the ballots and taking photos of them for any anomalies such as overvoting and stray marks, and will send a report to an adjudication station. 

A Republican and a Democrat will observe the adjudication station and make a bipartisan determination whether to accept or reject the votes with anomalies. 

"Once we accrued approximately 200 ballots, those ballots will be delivered to the ICC high-speed tabulator. The high-speed tabulator will begin to process those ballots ... until 8 p.m. election night, and that information will be release at that particular time," said Daniel Baxter, the special projects consultant of the Detroit elections department. "The remaining of the data will come on an hourly basis."

Each of the nearly 10,000 poll workers have undergone 2 1/2 hours of verbal and hands-on training. New poll workers will be paired with experienced poll workers on Election Day, and each one has to submit a negative COVID-19 test. 

Winfrey said poll workers were trained in conflict resolution to prepare for any voter intimidation, and Detroit police will be patrolling around polling locations. 

Daniel Baxter, director of external affairs and former Detroit director of elections, demonstrates equipment and computers used to count ballots during a press conference to discuss preparations for the presidential election at the Central Counting Board location inside the TCF Center, in Detroit, October 29, 2020.

"We know that people are on edge and we know that sometimes people are just not themselves ... so the one message that I have shared with them is to respond and not react to the public," Winfrey said. "People are angry and we're easy targets. They're very angry at me, just because."

On Tuesday, Winfrey pledged to process all incoming absentee voter applications within 24 hours of receiving them after the ACLU filed a lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court earlier this month stating the clerk's office "systematically failed to comply with her duty to issue absentee ballots within 24 hours of the receipt of an application."

Data from the Secretary of State's office show that as of Oct. 12, the office had issued 132,879 ballots and it "appears that up to 70,000 ballot applications have been sitting in the defendant's office for almost three weeks," the lawsuit states.

As of Tuesday, Winfrey's office had issued 168,938 absentee ballots for the general election and 111,226 had been returned, said Matt Friedman, a spokesman for Detroit Votes 2020. The office, he said, expects to issue at least 175,000 absentee ballots and count about 160,000 overall.

During the primary election in August, recorded ballot counts in 72% of Detroit's absentee voting precincts didn't match the number of ballots cast. When factoring in Election Day results, 46% of precincts had voting totals that didn't match precinct poll book numbers — meaning they potentially couldn't be recounted in a close election.

Wayne County canvassers called for state intervention, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson formed a partnership with Winfrey that is resulting in a team of advisers to ensure the integrity of Detroit's November election.