Michigan clerk banned from running Nov. 2 election over tabulator concerns

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The Michigan Bureau of Elections has prohibited a local clerk in Hillsdale County from administering next week's election after the bureau said the clerk failed to comply with state requirements regarding voting equipment in Adams Township. 

Adams Township Clerk Stephanie Scott denied the allegations and is exploring her options with outside counsel after the bureau's notice said a violation of the prohibition could result in a misdemeanor.

"As a supervisor, I don’t know that she does have the authority given that it's an elected position," Scott, the first-term clerk, said about Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Benson in a Monday statement said Adams Township voters deserve an election administered in accordance with state and federal laws. 

An Oak Park voter inserts a ballot into a tabulator after voting. A local clerk in Hillsdale County has been banned from administering the Nov. 2 election for refusing to perform preventative maintenance or perform and sign off on public accuracy testing on township voting equipment, according to the Michigan Bureau of Elections.

“I am confident that the Hillsdale County Clerk's Office will administer the election in a manner that ensures that it is legal, transparent and secure," she said. 

Scott refused to perform preventive maintenance or perform and sign off on public accuracy testing on township voting equipment, according to the Michigan Bureau of Elections. She also is alleged to have failed to confirm that she would use certified Hart Intercivic Inc. voting equipment, the township's current vendor, for future elections. 

Bureau of Elections Director Jonathan Brater told Scott in a Monday letter that the Hillsdale County Clerk's Office would handle the township's Nov. 2 elections in her stead.

Citing Michigan election law delegating "supervision and administration of the election laws" to the secretary of state, Brater ordered Scott to refrain from preparing, issuing or processing ballots; ordering or assembling election supplies; recruiting or training election inspectors; testing equipment; registering voters; declaring unofficial election results; supervising post-election canvassing or "handling any Election Day issues that may arise."

"Your past statements, detailed in prior letters, indicate that you are unwilling to fulfill your responsibilities as clerk, and you have failed to confirm that you will fulfill them in response to recent correspondence," Brater wrote. 

He ordered Scott to provide the Hillsdale County Clerk's Office with immediate access to all voting equipment and records. Her qualified voter file access was suspended. 

"Adams Township will be billed for all costs incurred by Hillsdale County and the State of Michigan, including staff time, for administering elections in Adams Township," Brater said.

Prior to Monday's letter, Benson's office has also prohibited the Southfield clerk and the Genoa Township clerk — both of whom are facing criminal charges related to election law violations — from administering their local elections. 

Scott, who was elected late last year as a Republican but now considers herself more of an independent, said Monday she has tussled with the Elections Bureau over the past several months over concerns she has about the township's tabulators.

Scott said she is worried about the security of the tabulators — including in relation to their performance in the November 2020 presidential election — and believes they were connected to or had the ability to be connected to the internet in past elections. 

Michigan election protocol prohibits connections to the internet, and Hillsdale County has denied any connectivity between the machine and the internet. Brater also notified Scott in an Oct. 15 letter that, while the tabulator has a modem physically attached, "the modem is disabled while polls are open."

"Tabulator programming does not allow any modem communications to occur while voting is in progress; the secure transmission can occur only after the election is complete and the tabulator tape has been printed," Brater wrote. "Additionally, data transmission is one-way."

Scott said Monday she also refused to turn in the tabulator at the county offices for maintenance because she felt it would violate her responsibility to retain federal election records for 22 months and "something from November would be erased, changed or deleted." She added that she believed she had until December to turn the machine into Hillsdale County for maintenance. 

Applicable election law requires the retention of ballots, proof ballots and sample ballots for federal offices for 22 months. It also requires electronic poll book data to be printed in paper form and retained for 22 months.

In addition, all data from the November 2020 and March 2021 elections are being stored in an election management system run by Hillsdale County, Brater said in an Oct. 15 email to Scott. 

"As I previously explained, preventative maintenance is routinely performed every two years and is a necessary security and maintenance process and does not destroy any records required to be maintained under federal or state law," Brater wrote. 

As for the public accuracy testing requirement, Scott said she wouldn't agree to sign a certificate before the testing was complete. Likewise, she wouldn't agree to use the current election equipment in future elections if there were "concerns about tabulator security." 

Still, Scott said she doesn't plan to break the law next week and felt some relief that she wouldn't have to run an election on equipment she didn't trust. She said she had explored the idea of paper ballots and a hand count, but had planned to use the tabulators instead. 

"Quite frankly, I was coming to a moral quandary of even running this election," Scott said. 

Lawsuits challenging President Joe Biden's 154,000-vote win over former Republican President Donald Trump in Michigan cited similar concerns about tabulator security and internet connectivity. 

None of the lawsuits were successful and several of the individuals who filed the litigation were ordered sanctioned by a federal judge in August. The judge found dozens of affidavits signed by individuals who claimed to have witnessed wrongdoing in Michigan's election were based on conjecture, speculation and guesswork.

Dozens of teams of county canvassers, state legislative inquiries and more than 250 audits performed by Democratic and Republican clerks confirmed the results of the election.