Antrim County clerk rejects demand, will use electronic tabulators in election

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy will use electronic vote tabulators in the county's May election, despite demands from county commissioners to rely only on paper ballots and a hand tally of votes.

Guy said in a Monday press release that she is obligated by state law to use an electronic voting system because it was selected by the Secretary of State's office years ago as the "uniform voting system" for every precinct in the state. 

The state of Michigan requires the use of paper ballots that are fed through electronic voting machines or tabulators, ensuring that Antrim County will have a paper record should the Board of Commissioners request a hand recount to verify the electronic tally after canvassing, Guy said. 

Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy says Michigan law requires the county to use an electronic voting system to tabulate votes as part of a "uniform voting system" put in places years ago.

"Since the county Board of Commissioners does not have the authority to determine which voting system to use in Antrim County, and because as county clerk, I, in consultation with township clerks, have the authority to decide which electronic voting system can be used in Antrim County, I cannot legally hold the May 2021 election with paper ballots counted by hand," Guy said.  

Antrim County Board of Commissioners Chairman Terry VanAlstine referred a reporter on Monday to Guy's press release and declined further comment due to ongoing litigation. 

"We did want to do that and the state told us that we could not do that," VanAlstine said about the board's insistence last month on paper ballots alone for the May election

On March 18, the Board of Commissioners rejected Guy's request for $5,080 to prepare Dominion voting machines for the May election by removing, securing and replacing hard drives currently at issue in a lawsuit examining a November error in the county's unofficial election results. To purchase new voting tabulators in the nine precincts holding elections would cost a total of about $55,000, according to the Traverse City Record Eagle.

Guy said Monday that the county instead will use its existing machinery and loaned equipment. 

No formal agreements have been made but ElectionSource "will be working with the state and the county clerk to provide equipment if so desired," said Jeff DeLongchamp, owner and CEO of the Grand Rapids-based election equipment firm. ElectionSource also provides service and support for Dominion Voting Systems software and hardware.

State Elections Director Jonathan Brater told Guy in a March 23 letter that state law expressly requires the use of a certified electronic ballot counting system. The choice of the system is up to the county clerk, in consultation with local clerks, not the county commissioners, Brater said.

"The county Board of Commissioners is without legal authority to determine how votes will be counted," Brater wrote.

In November, incorrect unofficial results showing Democrat Joe Biden in the lead in the Republican-leaning Antrim County set off a wave of conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems, the technology used to tabulate votes in the Northern Michigan county. 

County officials became aware of the mistake — caused by human error — the morning after the election. Guy had failed to collect and reload memory cards in all of the township voting machines when changes were made to some ballots after the initial programming of machines, according to a Detroit News review of emails and county documents. Because some machines weren't updated, errors occurred when the unofficial results were communicated to the county's election management system. 

The totals were corrected during the county's canvassing process, showing Republican former President Donald Trump had won the county by 3,788 votes in the 23,000-person county. Biden ultimately won Michigan by 154,000 votes and became president. 

A December hand tally audit of all of the county's roughly 15,000 paper ballots decreased Biden's vote total by one and increased Trump's by 11 votes, resulting in a 12-vote increase for the former president.

Staff writer Craig Mauger contributed.