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Whitmer won't weigh in on oversight of Detroit's fall election

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wouldn't weigh in Tuesday on whether Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson should intercede in Detroit's election management, but noted the state was confronting "unique challenges." 

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers on Monday required Benson to oversee Detroit elections in November after ballot counting problems in the Aug. 4 primary. The issue led to mismatched ballot totals in the poll books of about 72% of Detroit's absentee voting precincts and nearly half of all precincts.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, left, speaks as Chief Medical Executive and MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health Dr. Joneigh Khaldun listens during a press conference, Tuesday, August 25, 2020.

"I’m going to watch and work closely with the secretary of state and the clerk in Detroit," Whitmer said when asked for her thoughts on the voting problems in Detroit. "We all have a vested interest in getting this right... the secretary of state and and the clerk, though, are the point on this particular one."

Detroit was in the national spotlight in 2016 when city election officials couldn’t reconcile vote totals for 59% of precincts during a countywide canvass of vote results with most of the issues involving too many votes. The precincts couldn't be included in an initial recount requested by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein whom the courts later decided was ineligible to request the recount because she had no chance at victory.

Whitmer also dodged questions about an end date for the ban on the operation of movie theaters, gyms and bowling alleys in lower Michigan after she indicated last week that she was considering their reopening. 

"I’m not going to be bullied into making that decision," the governor said. 

Whitmer spent much of the press conference urging people to get a flu shot, announcing a statewide media campaign to increase state vaccine rates 33% and going so far as to get her flu vaccine while on stage. 

Last year, about 3.2 million Michigan residents received their flu vaccines.

But Whitmer and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said a greater vaccination rate would be needed to avoid a confluence of flu and COVID-19 cases at hospitals later this year. 

"There is a need for us to preserve our hospital resources," Khaldun said. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer receives a flu vaccination during a press conference at the Romney Building in Lansing Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.

As of Monday, the state's overall case tally stood at 97,660 and the total number of deaths was 6,397. 

Whitmer announced Tuesday that the state received a roughly $1.2 million donation from IKEA Retail U.S. to help provide for some extra services needed during the pandemic, such as education support for children, personal protective equipment or food and water. 

The contribution to the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Initiative is the largest since the fund was established in the early days of the pandemic. 

“This donation will be crucial to saving lives and providing much-needed support throughout our COVID-19 response," Whitmer said in a statement announcing the donation. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com