Editorial: Recount reveals voting outrages

The Detroit News

With the move to recount Michigan’s presidential ballots still tangled up in the courts, we may never know for sure whether it might have changed the outcome of the election. But we did learn some outrageous things about the state’s electoral process.

The key revelation is that the system in many places is rife with incompetence that results in the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters who cast ballots that don’t get counted.

In Wayne County, for example, one-third of the ballots cast on Nov. 8 would not have been eligible for recount because of handling irregularities; in the city of Detroit, it was half the votes.

Had the recount been allowed to proceed, it would have been useless without those ruined Detroit and Wayne County ballots, and others from Genesee County and elsewhere.

In some cases, the seals on the secure containers that receive the ballots after they’re counted were broken, so the possibility of tampering can’t be discounted. Secretary of State Ruth Johnson had the seals redesigned to make them less susceptible to accidental breakage.

A ballot box from a Detroit precinct that was supposed to contain 306 ballots held only 50 when it was opened. Elections Director Daniel Baxter told the state the ballots got accidentally left in a tub when the rest of the voting forms were packaged and sent downtown on Election Night.

In most of the precincts where votes couldn’t be recounted, the number of ballots in secured boxes didn’t match the number in the poll book of people who actually voted.

In other cases, ballots were found with notes written on them by precinct workers.

Even in Oakland County, noted for its electoral efficiency, 26 of 520 precincts were not eligible for the recount because of irregularities.

A group of 23 Republican state senators sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Schuette asking for an investigation into the security breaches at voting precincts, suggesting they may be linked to intentional fraud.

That’s always possible. But more likely it is an exposure of systemic incompetence.

Either way, it results in the disenfranchisement of voters who made the effort to get out and vote. The least they should expect is that their votes count, both in the first tally and in any subsequent recounts.

But had the recount gone ahead, the votes of tens of thousands of Michigan residents would not have been included.

This must be fixed.

An essential first step is a thorough evaluation of the election process in Michigan. A set of experts should be convened from both the private and public sectors to look at how Michigan handles voting, and how it can be improved.

It may be that a sort of election emergency manager is needed to quickly drive the fixes in communities with chronic problems counting and securing votes.

A commitment must be made to providing better training to election workers, both professionals and volunteers. Precinct sizes and locations should be re-examined to assure they best serve voters and the cause of getting an accurate count.

There also may be a need to address the quality and condition of voting equipment.

Places such as Detroit and Wayne County, where the problems are persistent, must accept assistance from the state, and agree to conform to statewide best practices.

The right to vote of Michigan residents means little if their ballots are spoiled by careless and incompetent election officials.