Benson to audit results of state, 200 jurisdictions including Wayne, Antrim counties

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The Michigan Bureau of Elections will conduct a raft of audits in the coming weeks, including reviews at the state level, in Antrim and Wayne counties, and in 200 other jurisdictions.

The undertaking is the "most comprehensive post-election audits of any election in state history," the bureau said Wednesday. 

The preliminary plans come after more than a month of lawsuits, press conferences, committee hearings and protests questioning Michigan's election results, which placed President-elect Joe Biden 154,000 votes ahead of President Donald Trump. 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

Post-election audits are common, but those announced Wednesday by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson are more than have ever been conducted before in an effort to demonstrate "the integrity of our election."

“Clerks across the state carried out an extremely successful election amidst the challenges created by record-breaking turnout and more than double the absentee ballots ever before cast in our state, a global pandemic and the failure of the Michigan Legislature to provide more than 10 hours for pre-processing of absentee ballots,” Benson said in a statement.

“As Attorney General William Barr, the FBI and CISA all have confirmed, this was most secure election in our nation’s history and we are confident these audits will continue to affirm that truth," she said.

The audits will include a statewide risk-limiting audit, a zero-margin risk-limiting audit in Antrim County and procedural audits in 200 other jurisdictions, including Detroit, Livonia and other Wayne County municipalities. 

The statewide risk-limiting audit, which was long planned by the department, would involve the hand-counting of thousands of randomly selected ballots to determine the accuracy of tabulating machines. That audit, which should be complete by mid-January, was first piloted after the March 10 presidential primary. 

In Antrim County, every ballot will be hand-tallied and compared with machine-tabulated results in a zero-margin risk-limiting audit of the presidential election. 

The procedural audits in 200 other jurisdictions, some of which have already begun, will include a review of election processes, ballots and machines.

The announcement of an audit in Antrim County comes the same day Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Benson in an Antrim County case, where a judge ordered a resident and Trump-linked security group to conduct a forensic review of the voting machines. 

Northern Michigan's Antrim County became the center of unproven allegations of fraudulent election machinery when the county clerk failed to update software properly, which caused the county's election software to transpose numbers and give Biden an initial lead over Trump on Nov. 4. 

When the issue was brought to the county's attention, the clerk pulled the county's vote tally down until the problem could be fixed. The software company Election Source eventually identified the source of the error, and the results were again released with a roughly 5,000-vote lead for Trump.

Even if the county wasn't alerted to the issue, the error would have been discovered during the canvassing process by comparing the physical tabulator tapes — a scroll of paper recording the results — with the unofficial results in the main software, Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy told lawmakers last month. 

Nessel's office sought to intervene in the Antrim County suit because Benson had an interest in the case as Michigan's "chief elections officer," because of ongoing audits and in an effort to strengthen a protective order on evidence produced in the case so that the security of the Dominion Voting Systems tabulators wasn't compromised. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com