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  • Writer's pictureERG

Five Emmet County Precincts Deemed Unrecountable

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

We invite you to read a most comprehensive, thoughtful recap (1350 words!) of yesterday's proceedings written by the one and only, John "The Skipper" Swartout.

Votes for and against statewide Proposal 3 on the November 8, 2022 ballots from several precincts in three northwest lower Michigan counties were manually recounted today on 12/13/22 at the Charlevoix Township Stroud Hall.

Election Integrity Force (EIF), a 501(c)(4), petitioned and paid for the recount, which also includes selected precincts in dozens of other Michigan counties. Ballots from seventeen precincts in Antrim, Charlevoix, and Emmet counties were scheduled to be recounted, but only eleven precincts were actually counted. According to the representative from the Michigan Board of State Canvassers (MBSC) who oversaw the process on site, the recount procedures adopted by the MBSC for this recount rendered the other six precincts “uncountable” due to a variety of ballot safekeeping issues. Among those recount procedures was the decision to consolidate recount venues in some areas, hence the counting of the three counties in one location.

The petition to recount Proposal 2 (in other areas) and Proposal 3 votes was not intended to change the results of the election. Both proposals passed by substantial margins, and too few votes will be recounted to change the outcome. Rather, the recount is expected to develop evidence of deficiencies in election integrity processes and procedures. Per procedures adopted by the MBSC, challenges may be made during the recount (but not after) by members of the public who witness irregularities in procedures or ballots. A challenge is an invitation to the county Board of Canvassers to withhold confirmation of the recount results and open an investigation into the matter challenged. The members of the county Board of Canvassers for each of the counties involved in the recount were present throughout the recount and each held a public meeting after the respective recount results were announced by the MBSC representative, to hear and respond to challenges, approve or reject the recount results, and allow for public comment. If a county Board denies a challenge, the challenger may appeal it immediately to the MBSC representative on site. If the MBSC representative also denies the challenge, the challenger has one opportunity to declare whether he or she intends to appeal it in writing to the full MBSC, and if so, must file the appeal within 5 days.

The recount petition included five precincts in Antrim County. In one of the five precincts, Milton Township Precinct 1 in-person election-day ballots were deemed uncountable due to a broken seal on the ballot container, a chain-of-custody breach. Of the ballots recounted, the election day tabulator count was 2,558 Yes votes and 2,099 No votes. The manual recount produced 2,546 Yes votes and 2,108 No votes. One challenge was filed on behalf of EIF - a challenge which applied also to a Bear Creek Township (Emmet County) precinct - requesting an investigation into the broken seal which rendered Milton Township precinct unrecountable under the MBSC's procedures adopted for the recount. The Antrim County Board of Canvassers denied the challenge. The MBSC representative denied the instant appeal. The challenger declared that the decision would be appealed to the full MBSC on behalf of EIF. Several observers made public comments, which generally praised the conduct of the recount by everyone in the room, but expressed frustration with a system that deems the Milton Township ballots secure enough to waive investigation of a custody breach but not secure enough to count. The chairman of the Antrim Board of Canvassers stated that on election night, an item was placed in the ballot storage container by mistake, and the next day the seal was broken by the clerk, who is a Republican, in the presence of a Democrat election worker, in order to remove the item, and the container was re-sealed. The MBSC representative stated that this was a mistake by the clerk, and there was no reason to suspect mischief. No one wanted to punish the clerk for an honest mistake - but the public was still deprived of its right and interest in having the ballots recounted due to the MBSC's adopted procedures.

Eight precincts in Emmet County were included in the recount petition. Five were deemed not recountable under the MBSC's procedures. Bear Creek Township's in-person ballot container had a seal that was deemed inadequate. Little Traverse Township's ballot container seal was unverifiable, and some absentee ballots were improperly mixed in with the in-person ballots. In West Traverse Township, Precinct 1 in-person, and Precinct 1 absentee ballot containers were incorrectly sealed on election night. Without elaborating, the MBSC representative stated that those issues have been addressed. However, the ballots were not recounted, due to MBSC's adopted procedures. In the precincts counted, the tabulator showed 2,945 Yes votes and 2,269 No votes on election night. The recount produced 2,944 Yes votes and 2,270 No votes. Two challenges were filed on behalf of EIF. The first was the Bear Creek Township challenge (combined with the Milton Township (Antrim County) challenge), concerning a ballot container seal on a container said to be new to the township. The Emmet County Board of Canvassers denied the challenge, waiving an investigation and affirming the recount. The MBSC representative denied the subsequent appeal, citing the MBSC's adopted procedures for this recount. An appeal to the full MBSC was declared on behalf of EIF. The second challenge concerned Little Traverse Township, where the ballot container was not sealed by an authorized election inspector, and mixed in-person and absentee ballots. That challenge suffered the same fate as the first. Several recount challengers and observers again availed themselves of the public comment opportunity. The comments were along the same themes touched on earlier before the Antrim board, but also included a comment that because no one in charge seemed to be able to answer questions about whether ballot containers with insecure seals could legally be transported, and by whom, the challenger had invited an attending sheriff's deputy to investigate these questions. (Please see video.) Another commenter identified possible sources of the container seal issues as ballot storage equipment standards, ineffective training, and/or the MBSC's adopted procedures that too easily thwart the petitioner's right to have ballots recounted, and asked the local and state canvassing boards to address those impediments to effective recounts.

Four precincts in Charlevoix County were included in the recount petition. All passed muster and were recounted. Before announcing the results, and in response to earlier questions about whether Michigan election law allows ballots to be transported to other counties for recount, the MBSC representative thanked Charlevoix Township for hosting the 3-county recount, and said the consolidation of neighboring counties in the recount was allowed by the “recount procedures adopted by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers.” She did not address the legal question.

The election-night tabulation for the Charlevoix County precincts recounted showed 1,914 Yes votes for Proposal 3, and 1,763 No votes. The recount produced 1,913 Yes votes and 1,764 No votes. There was one challenge, on behalf of EIF. The challenger asked for a second recount of Hayes Township votes due to the one-vote discrepancy. The Charlevoix County Board of Canvassers denied the challenge. The MBSC representative denied the subsequent appeal, citing “adopted procedures.” A spokesperson for the Charlevoix board said the requirement for a second and third recount in the case of a discrepancy applied only to the initial count of the total number of ballots to be recounted in the precinct, not to the Yes and No votes. (Following a manual recount such as this, the official result is the recount result, regardless of what the election night machine count was.) The EIF representative appealed the local board's denial of the challenge, and the MBSC representative denied the appeal. An appeal on behalf of EIF to the full MBSC was declared. Public comments before the Charlevoix board echoed previous comments, but emphasized that when a county board denies a challenge based on a ballot storage security issue, thereby implying that the board considers the issue de minimis, those ballots should be recounted, even if the recount is allowed for informational purposes only.

The Charlevoix County Board of Canvassers adjourned at 3:56 p.m., marking the end of the day's proceedings.

Photo of the recount in Charlevoix Township.

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