Michigan expert debunks infamous report on Antrim County election as 'meaningless'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News
View Comments

Lansing — A University of Michigan computer science expert says the much-discussed December 2020 report by supporters of Donald Trump on election results in Antrim County "contains an extraordinary number of false, inaccurate or unsubstantiated statements."

The Michigan Department of State last week released a 54-page analysis of what went wrong in Antrim County's election by J. Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan. Halderman details how human errors — the failure to properly prepare ballot scanners and ballots themselves — jumbled initial results to show Democrat Joe Biden winning the conservative northern Michigan county.

The opening section of a report from Allied Security Operations Group on Antrim County's election is pictured.

The incorrect unofficial results were quickly noticed and eventually fixed but led to a wave of conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems, the technology used to tabulate votes in the 23,000-person county.

The professor also examined claims made in a Dec. 13 report from Allied Security Operations Group. The report gained national attention among conservative media outlets and alleged Dominion software was "intentionally and purposefully designed with inherent errors to create systemic fraud and influence election results."

The report, written by Russell James Ramsland Jr., who is part of the group's management team, said the group found an "error rate" of 68% when examining "the tabulation log" of the server for Antrim County. That "error rate" figure was touted by Trump supporters who unsuccessfully sought to discredit and overturn the election results in Michigan and other battleground states.

Biden won Michigan by 3 percentage points or more than 154,000 votes over the Republican president.

During the push to reverse the outcome, Trump himself tweeted in December that there was a "68% error rate in Michigan voting machines."

Halderman's new analysis said Ramsland arrived at the 68% figure by examining the scanner log of a Nov. 6 re-scan of ballots in Central Lake Township, a township in Antrim County. The log included 15,676 lines with Ramsland classifying 10,667 as errors, equaling a 68% "error rate."

But the 68% finding is "meaningless," said Halderman, who is also co-chair of Michigan’s Election Security Advisory Commission. Scanning a single ballot produces multiple lines in the log, "often including many benign warnings or errors," he said.

Halderman

"This means that the fraction of lines that are errors does not represent a fraction of ballots or votes, the entities for which an error rate would be relevant," Halderman said.

The professor included the image of log error notices and ballot "reversed" notices.

"The warning messages relate to benign instances where ballots did not feed into the scanner correctly and were ejected (“reversed”) for the voter to try again," Halderman wrote. "This is analogous to a vending machine returning a dollar bill that was inserted incorrectly."

He also examined Ramsland's claim that a "staggering number of votes required adjudication," a suggestion that ballot selections could have been changed once they were in adjudication.

"There are several problems with this theory," Halderman said. "First, adjudication occurs after ballots are scanned and poll tapes are printed. In Antrim County, the final reported results match the poll tapes in essentially all cases. Therefore, the final results could not have been altered using adjudication."

In addition, the adjudication functionality was not enabled at all in Antrim County during the November 2020 election, and Antrim did not purchase the application, Halderman said.

"Far from a 'staggering number' of ballots being adjudicated, the actual number was zero," Halderman said. "Therefore, Mr. Ramsland’s theories are completely inapplicable to the incident in Antrim County."

Ramsland had claimed on Nov. 21 that someone had tried to "zero out the election results." He pointed to a log file entry that read, "EmsLogger - There is no permission to {0}." 

"This is absurd and misleading," Halderman said. "A programmer would immediately recognize that {0} is merely a placeholder, in this case one that was intended to be replaced with a description of the attempted action. It has nothing to do with 'zeroing' election results."

Halderman, who signed his analysis and affirmed it "under the penalty of perjury," said he doesn't believe Ramsland had "performed any credible statistical analysis of the Antrim County results, let alone one that supports the conclusion that there was fraud."

cmauger@detroitnews.com

View Comments