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If an election can't be recounted, can the election results be trusted?

Ballots being prepared for the recount in Ingham County.
Rick Pluta
Ballots being prepared for the recount in Ingham County.

The Detroit News reports that nearly a third of the precincts in Wayne County - most of them in Detroit - may not be able to be recounted in the presidential recount which began Monday in Michigan, due to broken machines and mistakes by poll workers.

Wayne County starts its recount on Tuesday. From the News:

“It’s not good,” conceded Daniel Baxter, elections director for the city of Detroit. He blamed the discrepancies on the city’s decade-old voting machines, saying 87 optical scanners broke on Election Day. Many jammed when voters fed ballots into scanners, which can result in erroneous vote counts if ballots are inserted multiple times. Poll workers are supposed to adjust counters to reflect a single vote but in many cases failed to do so, causing the discrepancies, Baxter said.

Michigan Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams says the state has made significant changes to post-election procedures, including audits and the establishment of "Receiving Boards," which are independent boards to ensure the recountability of election precincts.

"But ultimately it is up to the local clerk's office," says Woodhams, "and they're the ones who are responsible for running elections and hiring the precinct workers."

Woodhams says there are three steps that must be met before a precinct's ballots can be recounted.

The ballot containers must be sealed and there must be no holes in the containers, the numbered seal must match the seal number on the poll book, and the number of ballots in the container must match the poll book total or the tabulator total.

Woodhams says Michigan has finally saved up enough federal and state funds to replace all of the state's tabulators. They will be replaced in time for the 2018 election.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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