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Detroit clerk addresses troubled election; state audit shows no proof of voter fraud

Voters in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Paulette Parker
Michigan Radio
Voters in Ypsilanti, Mich.

Detroit city clerk Janice Winfrey has broken her public silence about irregularities in the city’s November’s election results.

Michigan’s presidential recount was halted mid-process. But the partial recount revealed that more than half of Detroit precincts were legally ineligible to be recounted, because reported vote counts didn’t match the actual number of ballots.

That prompted the state to launch an audit, which is still wrapping up. Winfrey has said very little during that time.

But state elections officials have now said there is no evidence of fraud, a finding Winfrey reiterated that at a press conference Friday. Instead, she said it mostly revealed a lot of “human error” at the “precinct level.”

Detroit elections staff initially blamed old voting machines for many of the problems. But Winfrey now says that’s not what happened, and challenged suggestions her office failed to test equipment.

“For the most part, problems that the state identified were human error,” Winfrey said. “Yes, we test every last one of our machines every time.”

Many of the reported problems with jammed vote tabulators in Detroit on election were likely due to people not correctly inserting ballots into the optical scanners. He says that likely accounts for a number of apparent “ghost votes” that raised the specter of fraud.

“What that meant was, if a voter held onto their ballot while the machine tried to tug it in and it didn’t receive it, that public counter would go up one increment,” Baxter said.

In many cases, poll workers didn’t make a note of these kinds of discrepancies because they’re not required to. In other cases, poll workers simple forgot to transfer machine-tabulated ballots into sealed ballot boxes.

Though the audit has yet to be finalized, Winfrey says it will show that “We did what we were supposed to do, we followed the law to the letter, and the issues that took place took place at the precincts.”

State elections director Chris Thomas said this week that it appears poll workers in some precincts simply failed to reconcile vote totals like they should have. He also cited “performance issues” at some Detroit’s receiving boards — sites that take in ballot boxes and poll books on election night — saying many did not get proper documentation from precinct workers.

Winfrey says she will start training poll worker supervisors quarterly, and also expand an effort to recruit more volunteers, especially younger people.

The state has also selected vendors to provide new voting equipment to local clerks across the state. It will fund most of the cost, but cities and townships will have to pick up the rest.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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