In 2016, President Donald J. Trump won Detroit and Wayne County by 10,704 votes, helping make him become the first Republican to win Michigan in 28 years.
All reasonable expectations based on Trump Campaign internal polls and data, were pointing to a far better margin of victory there in 2020.
But problems began surfacing in Detroit’s numbers in the Aug. 4 primary, prompting the county’s Board of Canvassers to send an official request for help to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
Monica Palmer, chairwoman of the board said the primary count “was so inaccurate that we can’t even attempt to make it right.”
State and city officials have known for at least four years how bad the ballot counting process was. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan slammed the ballot mismatches in 2016.
“Everybody in the city knows it was terrible,” he said in 2016, “and the good news was Michigan didn’t decide the national election because it would have shown a real spotlight.”
But even in August the number of ballots tracked in precinct poll books did not match the number of ballots counted.
Detroit had problems with precinct count mismatches in the November 2016 election when officials couldn’t reconcile vote totals for 59% of precincts showing most of the issues involving too many votes.
Heading into the November 2020 presidential election, in August the problem was evident. Recorded ballot counts in 72% of Detroit’s absentee voting precincts didn’t match the number of ballots cast.
The county’s Board of Canvassers then requested for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office to examine the “training and processes” used in Detroit’s Aug. 4 primary.
Jonathan Kinloch, a Democrat and one of the canvassing board’s four members, said, “It was a perfect storm.”
The “storm” involved a record number of absentee ballots being cast in Michigan’s primary and seasoned election workers not feeling it was safe to help with administering the election because of COVID-19, he added.
“The situation could amplify the spotlight on absentee ballots in Michigan ahead of an election for which record levels of mail-in voting are expected and President Donald Trump is already raising concerns about how votes will be handled,” reported The Detroit News’ Craig Mauger on August 21, 2020.
“The Wayne County board is asking Benson, a Detroit resident, to investigate “the training and processes used by the City of Detroit” in the primary election,” Mauger wrote. “The board also requested that the first-term Democrat appoint a state monitor to oversee the counting of absentee ballots in the general election.”
Response from Secretary of State Benson was critically important because the November election would bring Michigan’s first statewide general election with ‘no-reason absentee voting’ after voter approval of a 2018 constitutional amendment. Benson, a Democrat, has close ties with Kamala Harris.
In August, Mayor Duggan said he was reaching out to Benson and Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, who administers elections in the city, “to make sure this gets fixed immediately.”
“We cannot have a recurrence of these problems in November,” Duggan said.
The audit findings in 2016 prompted Republican then-Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to have state election officials assist Winfrey’s office in changing poll worker training and recruitment efforts.
The Wayne County Board of Canvassers includes two Democrats and two Republicans.
In their August 2020 resolution, the Wayne County board voted unanimously to request that Benson “appoint a monitor to supervise the training and administration” of Detroit’s absentee voter count boards in the general election.
The Secretary of State’s Office was aware of the county board’s request, said Tracy Wimmer, Benson’s spokeswoman.
“The Bureau of Elections will work with the City of Detroit to identify any errors that may have occurred in the processing of absent voter ballots and to implement any needed improvements to training procedures in advance of November,” Wimmer added.
The Michigan Republican Party blasted the apparent problems with tracking vote totals in Wayne County.
“The people of Michigan deserve to know that their elections are being conducted fairly and competently, but today’s news shows that Wayne County and the City of Detroit can’t conduct an election to even the most basic of standards,” said Laura Cox, the party’s chairwoman.
The Board of Canvassers are Monica Palmer, Republican; Jonathan C. Kinloch, Democrat; William Hartmann, Republican; and Allen Wilson, Democrat.
Canvassers in the State of Michigan is currently composed of two Republican members and two Democratic members, appointed by the County Board of Commissioners to four year terms.
The Board members are responsible for canvassing the votes cast within the county they serve. The Board members certify elections for all local, countywide and district offices which are contained entirely within the county they serve.
The Board members are responsible for inspecting the county’s ballot containers every four years. The County Canvass Board also conducts recounts for all units of government within the county they serve.