An investigation could help the city understand what went wrong, and prevent a repeat in November.
DETROIT, MI — Discrepancies between ballot counts and actual ballots cast in Michigan’s largest county are prompting Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to investigate.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said on Thursday that he reached out to Benson and Janice Winfrey, Detroit’s City Clerk who administers the city’s elections, “to make sure this gets fixed immediately.”
“We cannot have a recurrence of these problems in November,” he said.
Ballot counts recorded in 72% of the city’s absentee voting precincts did not match the number of ballots actually cast.
In nearly half—46%—of Detroit’s voting precincts both absentee and Election Day vote counts were off the mark, according to information presented to the Wayne County Board of Canvassers at last week’s meeting. The number of ballots tracked in precinct poll books did not match the number of ballots counted.
Election results from Michigan’s primary were accurate, according to Jonathan Kinloch, a Democrat and one of the canvassing board’s four members. Something did go wrong, however, in the process of tracking by precinct.
Certifying a ‘Perfect Storm’
In Michigan, precinct poll books that do not match with ballots can’t be processed for recounts, according to state law. Original election results must stand in these instances.
“It was a perfect storm,” Kinloch told The Detroit News.
In a year of a global pandemic, the worst economic recession in generations, civil unrest over the mistreatment and disenfranchisement of Black Americans, and the largest number of absentee ballots being cast in Michigan primary history, things were bound to go wrong.
Also, many of the more seasoned election workers chose to stay home over safety concerns during the pandemic, leaving precincts at the mercy of new workers with less-than-adequate training.
The Wayne County Board of Canvassers unanimously voted to certify the Aug. 4 primary election results last Tuesday. The Board of State Canvassers certified statewide results on Friday.
Michigan in the Spotlight
This November, Michiganders will be able to vote absentee without providing justification for using the option in a general election for the first time, thanks to voter approval of a 2018 state constitutional amendment. Michigan voters broke absentee records earlier this summer during the primary election.
Miscalculations in ballot counting could thrust the state back into the spotlight during an election where President Donald Trump consistently questions the validity and security of mail-in voting.
One of the problems with Detroit’s numbers in the Aug. 4 primary included ballots being put in the wrong tracking containers, according to Monica Palmer, a Republican member of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers.
“It was so inaccurate that we can’t even attempt to make it right,” said Palmer, who is also the board’s chairwoman.
The Wayne County board is asking Benson, who is a Detroit resident, to investigate “the training and processes used by the City of Detroit” in the primary. The board also requested that she appoints a state monitor to oversee the counting of absentee ballots for the upcoming general election.
The Secretary of State’s Office says it’s aware of the county board’s request, according to spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer.
“The Bureau of Elections will work with the City of Detroit to identify any errors that may have occurred in the processing of absent voter ballots and to implement any needed improvements to training procedures in advance of November,” Wimmer said.
A record 1.6 million Michiganders voted in the primary. That number is expected to increase by the general election in November.