Perry Johnson vows to 'hold Detroit accountable' for out-of-balance precincts

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A new ad for Perry Johnson, a Republican candidate to be Michigan's next governor, says he will "hold Detroit accountable" if the city's voting records are out of balance in future elections.

The pledge is part of the businessman's new "Quality Elections Means Secure Elections" plan, which his campaign began rolling out Wednesday. It came a day after he traveled to Florida to participate in an event hosted by former President Donald Trump.

Johnson wants to tie funding for local governments to their performance tracking ballots and voters, according to the plan.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Perry Johnson touted his business experience and his "quality guru" theme in a Super Bowl TV ad on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. Johnson has since rolled out an election accountability plan.

"Reward jurisdictions that balance their precinct poll books with the number of ballots cast with extra statutory revenue sharing and penalize those who do not," a summary of his plan said.

As they criticize the 2020 presidential election, Trump supporters have focused on the rate of unbalanced precincts in Detroit, a Democratic stronghold.

In the days after the election, officials reported about 70% of Detroit's absentee counting boards and 17% of its Election Day precincts were out of balance, meaning the number of voters didn't match the number of ballots cast.

However, elections experts have said the imbalances don't prove fraud occurred and are usually linked to clerical errors, including tabulators jamming or someone being issued a ballot for the wrong precinct. 

In December 2020, Jake Rollow, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, said out-of-balance precincts are typically more common in larger population centers where more votes are cast and clerks have more work to do in the same two-week canvassing period as other smaller jurisdictions.

Jonathan Brater, Michigan's election director, said in an affidavit in 2020 that the difference in absentee ballots tabulated and names in poll books across Detroit was 150.

There were "fewer ballots tabulated than names in the poll books," Brater said at the time.

Wayne County reported 366 precincts out of balance while Michigan's other 82 counties combined to report 320 in the November 2020 election, according to a Detroit News analysis of data provided by the Secretary of State's Office.

As part of his new plan, Johnson, one of 11 candidates seeking the GOP nomination for governor, said he also wants to require photo ID and signature verification for voters and make training mandatory for election officials.

"I regard voter integrity as one of the single most important issues in the state," Johnson says in a new TV ad that will begin airing Thursday.

The businessman and self-described "quality guru" was one of three Michigan gubernatorial candidates who attended a fundraiser for attorney general hopeful Matthew DePerno at Trump's Mar-a-Lago property on Tuesday.

"I enjoyed talking with President Trump yesterday and appreciated the warm welcome on stage," Johnson said of his trip to Mar-a-Lago. "We share a concern about election security, and I am going to work hard to solve the problem."

Meshawn Maddock, co-chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, also attended the Mar-a-Lago event.

While party officials usually avoid getting involved in primary races, she tweeted that Johnson's election plan was "great work."

"It was great to speak privately with President Trump and Perry Johnson yesterday," Maddock added. "All of us know how important election integrity is and we thank Perry for everything he is doing to secure our elections!"

Trump, who hasn't endorsed in the race for governor, has maintained unproven claims that widespread fraud cost him Michigan's 2020 election. But the result has been upheld by a series of court rulings, more than 200 audits and an investigation by the GOP-controlled state Senate Oversight Committee.

cmauger@detroitnews.com