Government and Law

State’s new election measures surprise officials

Starting in May, ballots will be hand counted in postelection audits

March 23, 2018
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The new election measures came as bit of a shocker to some local officials.

Starting in the May special elections, Michigan will hand count ballots from any of the 4,800 precincts selected in a postelection audit.

“It wasn’t something that the (Michigan) Secretary of State’s office has shared with us local clerks, so I was a bit surprised,” said Stephanie McMillen, acting Grand Rapids city clerk.

Gerrid Uzarski, Kent County election director, said the new manual hand-counting audit also came as a surprise to him because he wasn’t notified by government officials. Nevertheless, he said he doesn’t have any plans to increase the number of people on his staff.

“Audits are nothing new, they are just adding on a new task,” Uzarski said.

Fred Woodhams, a spokesperson for the Michigan Secretary of State office, said the new manual hand-counting mandate will occur weeks after election results have been verified.

“It would be a few weeks after the elections are certified, often in December,” Woodhams said. “The audits will come after the election has been certified and the losing candidates have (had) an opportunity to seek a recount. The audits would not affect the outcome of the elections.”

Woodhams said the ballots will be hand counted by the Bureau of Elections and the county clerk.

“It will give people a peace of mind that the tabulators work correctly,” Woodhams said. “Other states have started using similar checks.”

According to the Michigan Post-Election Audit Manual, the initial postelection audit must be conducted within 30 days after the canvass of the election is completed unless a recount has been ordered, which will require the inspection of election documents and the procedures used prior to the election and on election day.

Brad Fowler, an attorney at Mika Meyers, said the second audit will not be “a great utility to the state because it will happen after the fact. The results will be more of a teaching mechanism.”

“The Secretary of State doesn’t have to conduct audits at all,” Fowler said. “This Secretary of State said she is going to do so, but that is not to say that the future Secretary of State might decide not to, unless the legislature decides to enact a bill requiring it.”

Cathy Albro, a Democratic candidate running for the 3rd Congressional District, said she welcomes the safeguards the state is instituting.

“We need to restore public faith in our election security,” Albro said. “Michigan’s use of paper ballots is absolutely critical to the integrity of the election. As a candidate, it is reassuring to know that the postelection audit will help to validate the results.

“I am concerned about the ease of voting, fairness, security and transparency in Michigan elections. This is a step in the right direction.”

The new initiative comes after the state paid $40 million last year to replace its old optical scan voting system. Most cities have received voting machines and all cities will receive the new election equipment, including ballot tabulators, voting stations for people with disabilities and new election-management software. Grand Rapids has received its new voting system, according to McMillen.

Along with new equipment, Woodhams said the Michigan Secretary of State’s office is working with the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which is responsible for the state of Michigan’s IT systems and added more cybersecurity staff this year.

“The Bureau of Elections is able to share any suspicious activity, cyber or otherwise, with the Michigan Intelligence Operations Center, which shares threat information among local, state and federal agencies, including the FBI, Michigan State Police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” Woodhams said.

There will be several midterm elections in Michigan this year, including U.S. congressional races and state legislature races.

McMillen said that in August 2014, there were 133,400 Grand Rapids registered voters but only 20,288 voted in the primary election.

During the 2014 general elections in November, there were 134,083 registered in Grand Rapids but only 49,086 residents voted.

“These numbers are pretty average for a midterm election; however, the driving force of increased turnout will depend on what proposals appear on the ballot and if the candidates have strong opponents,” McMillen said.

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