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GOP senators ask Benson for election audit before certification of results

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Two Republican senators have asked Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to perform an audit of the Nov. 3 election prior to certification of results, citing more than 100 affidavits filed in various lawsuits challenging the vote-counting process in Detroit and elsewhere. 

Sens. Lana Theis of Brighton and Tom Barrett of Charlotte hand-delivered the letter Thursday, asking for an audit in light of a software glitch in Antrim County and numerous allegations arising from the absentee ballot count at TCF Center in Detroit. 

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson

"These claims deserve our full attention and diligent investigation to ensure fairness and transparency in our election process," Theis and Barrett said in their letter. 

Benson's office did not immediately commit to the audit or the timing of it. 

"We’re reviewing the request in the letter while the canvass proceeds, which itself is an audit," said Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for Benson.

At least one lawsuit challenging the results in Detroit has requested a similar audit prior to certification. Three other lawsuits simply seek to stop the certification of ballots to allow for further time to investigate claims made in the affidavits. 

County canvassing boards have 14 days from the start of the canvassing process to certify their results, or until Tuesday in Wayne County. The canvassing process involves a review of records produced during the counting process to document the votes cast. The certification process declares the final vote total.  

Results eventually will be forwarded to the state board of canvassers, which will meet on Nov. 23. 

The request from Barrett and Theis comes nearly a week after Michigan's GOP-led Legislature convened a joint oversight hearing in which they subpoenaed voting-related records to examine claims about the state's presidential election.

Sen. Ruth Johnson, a Holly Republican and former secretary of state, made a similar request for an audit in an affidavit she submitted in a legal challenge in Wayne County Circuit Court. 

It's not unusual for a secretary of state to conduct an audit after an election, but it usually takes place after the certification of results. 

After Election Day, Antrim County temporarily pulled its unofficial results from its websites after it was clear some votes had been misappropriated to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the Republican-leaning county. 

The county later fixed the issue and noted it happened because the clerk forgot to update the software that pulled the results from the tabulator and onto the county's online system. 

Republicans have expressed concerns about the main software, Dominion Voting Systems, since it's used by 47 other counties. 

Both the clerk and Benson have said the issue would have been caught in the canvassing process if it weren't for media and Republican operatives noticing the issue first. 

Theis and Barrett also listed numerous allegations stemming from the TCF Center in Detroit, where Republican poll challengers alleged they were harassed and blocked from observation. 

They also allege some counting tables tallied ineligible ballots, ran them through the tabulator multiple times or backdated ballots. 

The letter also argues there are allegations that a batch of 40,000 ballots arrived early Wednesday morning that were for one candidate. 

Detroit officials have denied each of the claims, with the clerk's senior adviser, Chris Thomas, noting the affidavits "revealed these challengers do not understand absent voter ballot processing and tabulating."

Thomas, a retired 36-year director of elections for Michigan, explained the receipt date of some absentee ballots was entered into the e-pollbook or supplemental lists at the absentee counting board because some Detroit satellite clerks' office stamped the date on the absentee envelope but forgot to enter the information into the qualified voter file.

None of the ballots entered into the system were received after Election Day, Thomas said.

"Unsecured ballots" the poll challengers allege were delivered to the TCF Center likely were blank ballots meant to be used to duplicate ballots too damaged to run through the tabulator, a filing from the City of Detroit said.

Election officials also have said they allowed the maximum number of poll watchers for both Democrats and Republicans, only restricting access to any additional poll watchers because of COVID-19 concerns.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com