State vows to examine Detroit’s over-vote precincts

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan’s elections board formally rejected Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s recount petition on Tuesday as election experts continued to debate the merits of last week’s partial statewide retabulation.

The Board of State Canvassers voted 3-1 to reject Stein’s petition, following an order from the state Court of Appeals to do so on grounds that she didn’t have legal standing to seek a recount as she finished fourth in Michigan’s Nov. 8 presidential election.

A federal judge put a stop to the recount last Wednesday after two-and-a-half days of recounting in the state’s 22 largest counties.

More than 2 million of the 4.8 million ballots cast were recounted, resulting in a net gain of 102 votes for Democrat Hillary Clinton, who officially lost the state to Republican President-elect Donald Trump by 10,704 votes.

Three hundred twenty-two of 3,047 precincts examined could not be recounted because of issues with mismatched vote totals and election security protocols that may not have been followed.

The state Bureau of Elections has launched an audit of 20 Detroit precincts where the number of ballots found in ballot containers during the recount was fewer than the ballots recorded in poll books on Election Day.

The Detroit News reported Wednesday on Wayne County election records that show 37 percent of Detroit’s precincts counted more votes than they should have.

State elections director Chris Thomas said Wednesday his office will look into the matter.

But Thomas said the ballot numbers may not add up because the Wayne County Board of Canvassers “did not have time because of other issues to go and look at all of those (precincts) that are one, two and three ballots off.

“Some of them may well have been reconciled when you open them up and you go through and you count again,” he told reporters. “I wouldn’t conclude right now that they’re all that way.”

The recount exposed “mistakes across the state — some minor and some not-so minor,” he said.

“There’s room for definite improvement in that regard,” Thomas told the Board of State Canvassers.

Wayne County had 128 precincts of the 322 statewide, but other counties had problems. About 27 percent of precincts in rural Branch County and 24 percent of precincts in Ionia County couldn’t be recounted, according to a Bureau of Elections report.

“The problem is not unique to Detroit,” said Mark Brewer, a Southfield elections attorney who represented Stein in the recount. “Auditing and investigating Detroit is not going to solve this problem.”

Brewer said the recount “was a very healthy process” to test the veracity of aging optical scanning machines.

“I think a statewide recount was long overdue as evidenced by what turned up in the course of those two-and-a-half days,” he said. “Halting (the recount), I think, creates more problems than it solves because halting it simply causes added suspicions and concerns.”

But Stein’s claims that Michigan’s election machines could be suspectible to tampering or hacking — the impetus of the recount — were unsubstantiated and “unfounded,” Thomas said.

“I have not found any fraud,” he said. “I found some questions that were raised that we are going to pursue, but I have not found any real evidence of fraud.”

Eric Doster, general counsel for the Michigan Republican Party, said the recount exposes “no evidence of hacking by the Russians, by the Martians.”

“This was an expensive experiment,” Doster said.

He also defended the practice of not recounting precincts where the number of ballots in the ballot box don’t match voting records or the box or seal has been torn, leaving it suspectible to tampering.

“Why in God’s name would we want to recount that precinct?” Doster asked.

Thomas also addressed the issue of more than 75,000 votes that were recorded as blank on Election Day.

The elections director suggested a significant portion of those votes may have been invalid write-in votes for Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was not a certified write-in candidate.

“Bernie, I think, did very well in Michigan. He might have finished fifth or sixth,” Thomas said. “But we didn’t count Bernie’s votes because he didn’t file an affidavit to be a write-in candidate.”

A final tally of Sanders’ invalid write-in votes is not available because the recount wasn’t completed. But to finish fifth place, Sanders would have had to top the 2,209 votes Natural Law Party candidate Emidio Mimi Soltysik — who in other states ran as the Socialist Party USA candidate — received on Election Day.

East Lansing attorney Patrick Levine Rose, who worked as a Democratic Party challenger in Ann Arbor on Election Day, protested the recount being prematurely shut down.

“This recount established that every vote doesn’t count,” Rose told the canvassers.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood