DETROIT – Poll book problems, unbalanced precincts and false reads are at the heart of the Republican Party's long shot efforts to toss out thousands of votes in Detroit and other largely Black cities that contributed to Joe Biden's victory in Michigan.
Experts say those issues are present in all elections and almost never indicate any serious threat to the integrity of the results.
There has been no evidence of widespread voting fraud in Michigan or any other state. And federal and state officials from both parties have declared the 2020 election safe and secure. But President Donald Trump and his allies have spent two weeks raising false claims of fraud, pressuring Republican officials and refusing to concede to Biden.
A state canvassing board is expected to begin certifying election results Monday from each of Michigan’s 83 counties, including Wayne County, where two Republican county canvassers this week grudgingly certified the election after noting what they called ballot “discrepancies” in Detroit precincts.
Some answers to basic questions about the canvassing and certification process:
Q: WHAT HAPPENED TO HOLD UP THE CERTIFICATION?
A: Republicans Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, who sit on a Wayne County election board, initially tried to block routine certification of the vote and then reversed themselves, only to try again to revert to their original position — something the Michigan secretary of state says cannot be done.
Palmer and Hartmann were appointed in May by the county clerk, a Democrat. They were recommended by the Republican Party to fill spots after two other Republicans on the board resigned, according to the county.
Palmer cited claims that certain Detroit precincts were out of balance, meaning that absentee ballot books did not match the number of ballots cast. Hartmann said he changed his vote to certify the election because canvassers agreed to seek an audit of Detroit’s election performance.
Q: WHAT ARE POLL BOOKS?
A: Electronic poll books are computer software used in polling places on Election Day. The software allows poll workers to look up a voter’s registration record, confirm the registration and assign a ballot to that voter. This automates the typical paper process. After the election, the software generates reports to complete the official precinct record, which is a paper poll book, and a voter history file.
Q: WHAT ARE OUT-OF-BALANCE PRECINCTS?
A: A precinct is said to be out of balance when the total number of ballots tabulated and the total number of voters who were issued a ballot do not agree. Fixes include verifying that all absentee ballots have been processed and tabulated by going through return envelopes and verifying that every absentee voter is included in the poll book total.
“Somebody opened the ballots and counted them,” said Michael Traugott, a research professor in the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan. “They know how many ballots there were. Then they counted the votes for the candidates, and they don’t match exactly.”
The Republican canvassers “got hung up about the city of Detroit,” Traugott said.
Q: WHAT ARE FALSE READS IN ABSENTEE BALLOTS?
A: False reads is a term used to describe any situation where the tabulator rejects a ballot due to a correction such as an erasure, a stray mark or an invalid write-in vote. Ballots rejected as blank may also be the result of a false read if a voter has made an improper mark or used an improper marking tool.
Q: WHAT ARE OTHER EXAMPLES OF VOTING DISCREPANCIES?
A: Traugott says if a voter gets handed a ballot and then has to wait in line and leaves, that throws off the total vote count. Other potential problems include ballot scanners that get jammed or ballots that cannot be read because voters filled them out improperly.
Q: WHAT ARE POST-ELECTION AUDITS?
A: The audits are reviews of procedures performed before, during and after an election. They include a review of voted ballots with a hand tally of select contests. The review of voted ballots will verify that the equipment used to count votes worked properly and yielded an accurate result.
Q: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
A: Palmer’s and Hartmann’s concerns are sure to be brought up next week during the statewide canvassing. There are two Republicans and two Democrats on the state Board of Canvassers, meaning another 2-2 deadlock could occur.
The issue would then go before the Michigan Court of Claims, according to former Michigan Elections Director Chris Thomas.
Thomas, who served as an advisor to the Detroit city clerk for the general election, said the 172,000 absentee ballots received and processed by the city likely caused some problems in Detroit.
“I think there’s a volume issue in Detroit that no other jurisdiction deals with,” Thomas said.
To handle the massive amount of ballots, the city clerk’s office also brought on a “lot of new people who have never” done that kind of election work before, Thomas added.
“We’ve seen nothing nefarious going on,” he said.