Michigan elections chief urges recount reform

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News
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Lansing — Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas called Thursday for a change in state law to make recounts easier after Detroit’s election night counting problems.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections audited 136 of the city’s most irregular precincts — “the worst of the worst,” it said — after a Wayne County canvass revealed “significant discrepancies” in the number of voters and ballots in 392 Detroit precincts. After an extensive review, it was able to narrow nearly 600 uncounted-for votes to 216.

“I think the time has come for at least a consideration of that,” Thomas said at a press conference following the release of an audit that concluded that discrepancies between the recorded number of votes and actual ballots cast in Detroit were the result of human error.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein requested a statewide recount that was stopped after nearly 40 percent of Michigan’s precincts were retallied because state and federal courts ruled she had no chance of winning, and thus wasn’t an “aggrieved” candidate under state law.

Thomas said the state’s elections rules were drafted after the 1952 recount of Michigan Gov. Gerhard Mennen “Soapy” Williams.

Thomas said the state could consider legislation that would require the preparation of a report to the Secretary of State’s office, showing the number and location of precincts where voting mismatches or irregularities occur to make investigation easier. He said it would “provide a road map” for those seeking a recount.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson previously mentioned a plan to expand routine, post-election audits because of voting irregularities in Detroit and elsewhere in the state. Thomas told a House panel Thursday that an internal plan for the audit expansion is already underway.

Thursday also marks the first time that the Bureau of Elections has ever referred particular cases of double voting — once in person and once on an absentee ballot — to the Michigan Attorney General’s office for investigation, Thomas said. A statewide investigation found that 31 Michigan residents had voted twice — with 14 from Detroit and 15 from Detroit’s suburbs.

Elections officials will be referring such cases to the office “on an ongoing basis” from now on, he said.

Thomas also called for more rigorous pre-election night training because many Detroit elections workers were unfamiliar with certain voting software, couldn’t properly use computers and did not follow elections procedure. Thomas suggested poll book workers should be required to “take written exams” showing they understand elections rules.

Precinct boards, poll book notes and recount boards all “should have caught” any errors before the audit, Thomas said. The irregularities would have been investigated even if Stein had not requested a recount.

“It is a failure at the city level, and it is a failure at the precinct level in many precincts,” Thomas said.


Twitter: @MikeGerstein

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