Signs at Detroit’s Frederick Douglass Academy encouraged social distancing.
Photo by Franz Knight
Signs at Detroit’s Frederick Douglass Academy encouraged social distancing. Photo by Franz Knight

Following serious issues arising during the August primary, Detroit has reached out for state assistance to avert disaster on Election Day, Nov. 3.

DETROIT, MI — The state will work with Detroit election officials to ensure that problems encountered during the recent primary are not repeated to catastrophic effect during the Nov. 3 general election, the city clerk and secretary of state announced Wednesday.

The number of counted absentee ballots in the August primary didn’t match the tally recorded in poll books in more than 70% of precincts. City Clerk Janice Winfrey, who oversees elections in Detroit, said that discrepancy could be attributed to a number of factors including: a record number of mail-in ballots; new and inexperienced workers; and training that was delayed due to the stay-at-home order imposed in March because of the coronavirus.

READ MORE: Detroit’s Primary Ballot Count Had Discrepancies. Now SOS Benson Is Stepping in to Help

After the primary, Michigan’s canvassing board, which certifies statewide elections, asked the Secretary of State’s office to take control of Detroit’s elections in November.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement that her office would work with Winfrey to “ensure she has all the support she needs as her team prepares for the culmination of one of the most challenging election cycles in modern history.”

Detroit received about 79,900 mail-in ballots for the primary, in which total voter turnout was less than half of what’s expected in November.

Absentee voting is being encouraged by many states. President Donald Trump has claimed — without proof — that it could lead to massive fraud, even though he himself votes by mail.

Winfrey and Benson said at least 6,000 election workers will be recruited and trained to staff Detroit polling locations and absentee counting boards. How ballots are counted and sorted will be revised to reduce the potential for error and make more effective use of high-speed tabulators.

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Fourteen new satellite clerk offices — where voters can register, request and return absentee ballots starting Oct. 5 — will be opened, bringing the total to 21. More than 30 secure ballot drop boxes will be installed across Detroit.

Former state Bureau of Elections director Chris Thomas will work as a senior advisor to Winfrey.

“Partnerships are critical to running smooth, secure elections and the additional staff, resources and support from the city, county and state will further strengthen our election system as we navigate this unprecedented time,” Winfrey said in a news release.

A number of experienced and largely older poll workers were unavailable for the primary because of concerns about the coronavirus, Winfrey said. The city and Benson’s office made employees available to serve as poll workers, but they lacked experience and some left their posts at 8 p.m. election night, she told The Associated Press Monday.

“They were not the ones we used in the past,” Winfrey said. “(Previous workers) know better. They know on Election Day you stay until the work gets done. That’s not to say they don’t make mistakes. They do.”

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Winfrey’s office has added supervisors and is implementing different levels of supervision for the November election.

“Team leaders will make sure no one leaves the table,” she added.

Winfrey also said members of the “Divine Nine” — Black sororities and fraternities — have committed to help process absentee ballots during the general election.

But state law needs to be changed to allow clerks to begin processing absentee ballots — comparing names and signatures, checking them off and tearing the ballot stubs — before Election Day, she added.