Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Broken machines could throw Michigan recount into chaos

Sam Thielman
Dec. 6, 2016

Broken polling machines may have put vote counts in question in more than half of Detroit’s precincts and nearly one-third of surrounding Wayne County, possibly throwing the Michigan recount into chaos.

If the discrepancies can’t be solved by recounting every paper ballot in question by hand, a recount in those precincts simply won’t happen.

Donald Trump’s slim margin over Hillary Clinton means any chance of the state flipping on a recount likely hinges on Wayne County, where the Democrat won by a landslide. Clinton lost by 10,704 votes in Michigan; Wayne’s population of 1,759,335 makes it the likeliest candidate to contain errors bigger than that margin.

There are three vote totals: the total number of votes the electronic ballot scanners report; the total number of people who signed the electoral roll, or “poll book”; and the total number of paper ballots filled out and stored in sealed containers. The poll books and the electronic ballot scanners do not match, so the paper ballots will be counted by hand. If hand-tallied ballots can’t resolve all the mismatches, the votes will stand in the counties where the errors remain.

Eighty-seven of Wayne County’s decade-old voting machines broke on election day, according to Detroit’s elections director, Daniel Baxter. He told the Detroit News, which first reported the story, that ballot scanners often jammed when polling place workers were trying to operate them. Every time a jammed ballot was removed and reinserted, he suspects the machine may have re-counted it.

Preliminary investigation by election officials in Wayne County found that 610 of the area’s 1,680 precincts could not reconcile the number of votes cast according to the machines with the number of ballots issued according to the electoral rolls. Detroit contains 662 of Wayne’s precincts; in 392 of those, the number of votes didn’t match up.

Baxter told the News he was confident a recount would match the ballots issued to the paper records, which are sealed and stored under guard. “I don’t think it’s going to be 100%,” he said, “but it never is with a recount.”


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