My experience with the 2016 Recount

I thought the recount was a ridiculous waste of time and a waste of our tax money. Unfortunately, $125 a precinct won’t cover costs, and it is our counties that pay the price. I also thought it was a good learning experience, personally.  If this was Hillary Clinton pushing the recount, I would not have liked it, but there is theoretically a path to victory for her. There was no path for Jill Stein. If the concern was “hacking,” she was looking at the wrong state since this is an optical scan state with paper ballots. If she was concerned about the blank votes, she should know that a lot of people voted for blank for president. We didn’t exactly have a super popular group of candidates this year. What would have better is an audit of the election with the concerns out of Wayne County. We do need that.

While the courts halted the recount in Michigan, my county did go for one day and I was there for that. I’ve been involved in most roles in an election at some point in the last 15 years. Recounts are new territory for me. I knew about the Mike Rogers recount in 2000 for congress and Joe Hune’s recount in the 2002 primary, and a township recount here and there, but I wasn’t in the middle of those. I took some time off and spent all day yesterday working as an attorney challenger on the Republican side for the recount yesterday. It was the first day the recount was going to be counted in Livingston County.  We went through 1/3 of the precincts in Livingston County, and Trump gained 18 votes, with Hillary gaining 5 in the county. Some things I’ve learned or were reinforced to me.  Us political folks are not the majority. By that, I mean those who eat, breath, and sleep politics, and those who work in the business. This was shown in some of the voting patterns and downticket splits. People have their own reasons for voting the way they do. It’s not always ideological.

I don’t impress easily. I was impressed at the operation. We have very good group of municipal clerks (with one major exception) here in Livingston County. This was a tough test. We didn’t know what the courts would do. We did not expect a statewide presidential recount.  Our county clerk is new and has been on the job for about a year. This was a short notice surprise. Our County Clerk had a good team organized. Two of our past county clerks were there helping. I saw most of the township and city clerks there. There were four rooms at a county building used for the recount. Both parties had people covering the polling stations. Myself, one other attorney, and a Michigan Republican Party staffer. I moved around between the four rooms keeping an eye on things. Some representatives from the State Bureau of Elections were there as well.

The actual process in Livingston County was as follows. A precinct is delivered to the table. The seals are supposed to match. The seal is broken and the ballots are removed by the election workers. Challengers and attorneys are not allowed to touch the ballots. The workers then count the number of ballots. They are supposed to match the pollbook or tabulator. If they don’t, they count again. If there’s three counts that don’t match, then the precinct is deemed “Not recountable” and the original numbers are used for the election. Once the ballots match, then the ballots are sorted into piles of Trump, Clinton, Others (write-ins, blanks), Johnson, Stein, Castle, and the Natural Law Party candidate I can’t remember. After the piles are sorted, then stacks of 25 are counted for each candidate by the poll workers with the results entered. The ballots are then resealed in the bin.

Jill Stein thought there was no way that 85000 people skipped the presidential race. I disagreed with that then and still do now. While Trump got the majority in my county, a lot of people didn’t like either candidate. There were some scorned primary voters who went straight ticket for one party, but voted the opposite for president (Trump D’s and Hillary R’s). There were more straight party 3rd party straight tickets with a Trump or Hillary vote. Working Class favored Trump. Libertarians seems more Trump (if not Johnson) but not always. Greens more Hillary, but not always. Some went Trump. There were quite a few votes for blanks, particularly among Republicans. There were some, although not many votes for Evan McMullin, who was a write in here.  There were also “invalid write-in” votes (counts the same as a no vote or blank vote) for Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Bernie Sanders, “none of the above”, and even Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck, and Jimmy Kimmell. Some wrote in Mike Pence. Those were usually put in the “others” pile, but I challenged those as votes for Trump/Pence. Michigan is not a voter intent state. Here’s something I didn’t know until a couple of days ago. If I voted straight party R and wrote in a “non-valid” write in candidate. Donald Duck for example. The Donald Duck vote would not count, and the straight party vote would take over turning it into a vote for Trump. If I didn’t vote straight party and voted for Donald Duck, then it would be the same as a blank vote for president. On the other hand, if I voted straight party R, but voted for Evan McMullin, it would could as vote for McMullin as he was a valid write in. It sounds strange, but that’s the law in Michigan.

I’ve heard about major problems in Wayne County. I wasn’t there for those, but they are found all over the internet.

Our county folks did a great job. 90% of our townships and municipalities did a great job, both on election day, and in the recount. They worked well together to get through this process. Our county clerk was there herself, as were two previous retired county clerks who were there to help. Our County’s elections director for the most part ran the show and is one of the best. Most of our township clerks were there as well helping with the process. Most of the problems we saw were from one township. Sadly, it was mine. No, I am not surprised. There’s a reason why I ran against my township clerk in the August primary. Elections was at the top of the list. Two precincts were deemed not recountable due to ballot counts not matching. Both were in my township, and one of the precincts was my own. I was not happy about that as you probably guessed. I made two challenges. One was on a ballot (that happens). The other was related to seals. On one of my township’s AVCB I saw, 3 of the four boxes were sealed. The fourth was not. In that box, there were absentee envelopes, but also original ballots duplicated (allowed) in an envelope. All of the ballots should be in a sealed box.

I didn’t see any problems with other municipalities in my county. That’s not to say there weren’t other issues that may have occured, but I didn’t see them. I also do not expect many problems in my county which has a good reputation for doing things the right way.  One thing that the Stein folks did was confuse the recount process for an audit. I do agree with the Stein committee that there needs to be audits regarding our elections. A recount isn’t the place for that since recounts only show changes in number of votes and/or if a precinct is recountable. Many precincts in different areas of the state had issues. While this recount was a waste of taxpayers’ money, some good did happen out of it, which is to bring some of our election weak links out in the open. We have to make a positive of the negative here, and get our elections in order across the state.

Kudos to our county clerk Betsy Hundley and our elections director Joan Runyan (we are real lucky to have Joan), our past county clerks Margaret Dunleavy and David Teggerdine, Howell City Clerk Jane Cartwright, Brighton Township Clerk Ann Bollin, Marion Twp Clerk Tammy Beal, and the rest of the team there helping with the recount. It received rave reviews from those I have talked to.

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