State sending Wayne Co. help for ‘monumental’ recount
Detroit — Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office is assembling election workers from across Metro Detroit to go to Cobo Center Wednesday to help Wayne County recount nearly 800,000 ballots.
State Elections Director Chris Thomas said he’s sending workers from his office and recruiting volunteers from Detroit and municipalities in the three counties to help Wayne County’s election department “accelerate” its recount after a slow start Tuesday.
“It’s a monumental task,” Thomas told The Detroit News. “We really need to accelerate this one because of the sheer volume.”
Wayne, Macomb, Kalamazoo, Kent, Ottawa and Washtenaw joined Oakland and Ingham counties on Tuesday in the massive effort to recount 4.8 million ballots cast statewide in the Nov. 8 election.
Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said late Tuesday afternoon her workers were close to finishing their recount of 130,000 ballots, pending some issues over some challenged ballots. Ingham and Oakland counties kicked off the recount mid-day Monday under order by a federal judge.
Thomas said he was pleased with the progress in Ingham County after just one day of counting as he left a Michigan Court of Appeals hearing over efforts by President-elect Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Schuette to stop the recount.
“If we get that thing done, our biggest hurdle is Wayne County,” he said.
One of those hurdles in Wayne County include a high number of precincts that may not be recountable.
The Detroit News first reported Monday that nearly one-third of precincts in Wayne County could be disqualified because of problems with ballots and tallies in elections records.
More than half of Detroit’s precincts alone could fall under the scrutiny of recount workers for issues with the number of ballots in the secured box not matching the number of ballots recorded in the poll book on Election Day.
Meanwhile, amid court fights over the recount, Thomas said Wayne County’s recount must be done ahead of a Dec. 13 deadline to finish the recount and re-certify the winner of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes.
At Cobo Center on Tuesday, about 150 people began recounting in two large conference rooms on the fourth floor of the downtown Detroit convention center, where municipalities in Wayne County brought their ballots on Monday.
The group was broken into two-person teams and each sat at rectangular tables. Their multiple conversations created a low din in the cavernous room.
Officials said the group is first tackling the recount of absentee ballots from Detroit — and they acknowledged the pace was slow.
“We’re making progress,” said Tom Luitje, election specialist with the State Bureau of Elections, standing on the floor of Cobo Center Room 420 Tuesday afternoon. “The first day is always the slowest.”
Luitje said there weren’t any problems or surprises so far. He said workers came across a number of uncountable ballots, but he didn’t know how many and he won’t know until the recount is completed.
Luitje also said he expects the recount in Wayne County to continue through the weekend and into Monday. Workers will likely stay at it until 7 p.m. each day.
Krista Haroutunian, chairwoman of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, was in Room 420 to help workers with the recount. The board’s staff and staff from the Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett’s Office were also providing assistance. Some wore red aprons and moved large metal boxes around with metal dollies.
Haroutunian said the process is very time consuming and labor intensive.
“Wayne County has about 1,600 precincts, and every precinct has between 500 and 1,000 voters,” she said.
She also said the recount is historic.
“Nothing like this has happened in recent memory,” Haroutunian said. “This is just not done.”
In her estimation, the recount has been going well.
“I think it’s been going OK based on the fact that most of these people did not know the process,” she said. “We’ve had challenges from both parties at the tables. Everyone has been civil. Everyone has been trying to work together. I think it’s going well.”