GOP senators seek probe of Wayne County election issues

Chad Livengood, and Charles E. Ramirez

Detroit — Twenty-three Republican state senators are calling on Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate voting irregularities in Detroit and Wayne County discovered through the presidential election recount.

At Wayne County’s recount Tuesday, election workers opened a Detroit precinct’s ballot box that was suppose to contain 306 ballots but only had 50 ballots, according to an election observer for President-elect Donald Trump.

The missing ballots caused State Elections Director Chris Thomas to investigate the matter Wednesday while he was at Cobo Center for Wayne County’s recount.

Judge’s order effectively suspends Michigan’s recount

Thomas said Detroit Elections Director Daniel Baxter told him the ballots were left in a container that sits below the voting machine in Detroit’s precinct 152.

“At the end of the night, they take those ballots out, put them in these metal ballot boxes and bring them to the city elections office,” Thomas said Wednesday. “For whatever reason, they got left in the tub below the tabulators and it wasn’t discovered until they brought them back in. At that point, they hadn’t been sealed, so they can’t be counted.”

State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, said the missing ballots in that one precinct coupled with issues surrounding numerous precincts that cannot be recounted because of other irregularities should be cause for Schuette to investigate.

“This lemon of a recount may turn into lemonade from the stand point of helping us firm up the integrity of the voting process,” Colbeck said Wednesday.

Penny Crider of Livonia, Colbeck’s district director, said she was the Trump representative at the table when the box was opened and had 256 fewer ballots than records showed.

Crider said the missing ballots create doubt in the minds of voters of the validity of elections.

“It delegitimizes the whole thing,” Crider told The Detroit News. “I feel very badly for those in Detroit because something needs to be fixed.”

Thomas, who has been the state’s elections director since 1981, said ballots have been accidently misplaced in the past.

“It’s not something happens regularly, but it does happen,” he said.

An inside look at election

Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who requested the legally disputed recount, sought a hand examination of Michigan’s 4.8 million ballots to explore shortcomings in the election processes, her attorney said. Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by 10,704 votes, 47.5 percent to 47.3 percent, while Stein finished fourth with finished fourth with 51,463 votes or 1.1 percent.

“We’re seeing many precincts around the state deemed unrecountable because election workers failed to comply with longstanding Michigan ballot security measures,” Stein attorney Mark Brewer told the Board of State Canvassers on Wednesday. “For the first time in a long time, the voters of this state are being allowed to see inside the election machinery.”

The Detroit News first reported Monday that 59 percent precincts in Detroit could be disqualified from the recount because the number of ballots in secured boxes doesn’t match the number of ballots in the poll book.

For Wayne County, about 36 percent of precincts had mismatched numbers, according to the county canvassing board’s post-election report.

Precincts with numbers that don’t match get heavily scrutinized by recount workers, who physically recount the ballots to check for human or machine error on Election Day. If the numbers don’t match after two counts, the precinct is declared unrecountable and the original results stand.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson cautioned Wednesday that the problems found by the Wayne County Board of Canvassers could be resolved in the recount and the ballots would get recounted.

“It’s really premature to speculate how many precincts in Detroit and Wayne County can’t be recounted,” Woodhams said.

Wayne County is not alone in experiencing issues with precincts that can’t be recounted.

In Oakland County, 26 of the 520 precincts were not recountable, county elections director Joe Rozell said.

A couple of precincts had canvass ballot bags that ripped at some point between Election Day and transport to the county’s recount center, making them unrecountable under state law because of the potential for tampering, he said.

Rozell said the “vast majority” of precincts had mismatched numbers between how many ballots were in the sealed bags and how many were recorded in the precinct’s poll book. Most precincts were off by one or two ballots, he said.

When a precinct is deemed unrecountable, the certified results from the Nov. 8 election stand.

Ingham County also had issues

Ingham County completed its two-day recount Wednesday of 130,000 ballots and had nearly two dozen precincts set aside in the process.

In 23 of 208 precincts, ballots were deemed unrecountable for a variety of reasons besides having numbers in the ballot boxes that didn’t match the number of ballots recording in the precinct poll book, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said.

Some precincts were excluded from the recount because there were tears in the suitcase-like ballot bags that left them susceptible to tampering, she said.

In Meridian Township, which borders East Lansing, six precincts were not recountable because election workers put a seal on the ballot bag that’s only supposed to be used for local elections, not a statewide general election, Byrum said.

“As an election official, it is always extremely concerning and frustrating when a precinct is not recountable,” she said.

Colbeck and 22 other Republican senators sent Schuette a letter on Wednesday calling for a probe into the mismatched numbers between the ballot boxes and the poll books.

Schuette said Wednesday he would refer the matter to Johnson, the state’s chief elections officer.

“Unrecountable precincts happen in every recount, they happen throughout the state,” Woodhams said Wednesday.

Johnson has used teams of election workers who receive and inspect ballot boxes to make sure they’re properly sealed and the serial numbers on the seals are recorded, he said.

“Typically what you see in a recount is simple human error,” Woodhams said. “It’s regular clerical error. But if there are specific allegations regarding this election, we will look at them.”

(517) 371-3661

Twitter: @ChadLivengood