[Image courtesy of stridingmom]
The winner of Detroit’s recent nonpartisan mayoral primary is in doubt after Wayne County officials refused to certify a set of returns that omit about 20,000 write-in votes for the apparent winner – because they were not tallied properly by poll workers. The Detroit Free Press has the details:
A state election panel will have to decide who really won the Detroit mayoral primary after Wayne County election officials on Tuesday refused to certify shocking new election results, which would have invalidated about 20,000 votes and handed the primary win to Benny Napoleon instead of Mike Duggan.
The county board was debating whether to invalidate more than 20,000 write-in votes that were not recorded at polling locations using hash marks, which would cause the result of the Aug. 6 primary to be flipped — with Napoleon, the Wayne County sheriff, receiving more votes than write-in candidate Duggan.
Under Michigan law, hash marks – the system of vertical and horizontal tally strokes used to group items in fives for ease of tabulation – are supposed to be used by poll workers counting write-in ballots:
The proper way for poll workers to keep track of write-in votes is shown in a manual the state provided county boards of canvassers in July 2010. The manual shows a sample poll book with hash marks corresponding with each vote cast for a declared write-in candidate. The hash marks then are to be added up for each declared write-in candidate and a total is to be recorded in each poll book.
No one disputes that some poll workers didn’t use hash marks but instead merely entered a numeric number of ballots on their sheets. [This graphic illustrates the problem.] A significant dispute has emerged, however, about the consequences of those actions:
The manual does not give instructions if hash marks are not recorded in the poll books. However, the manual says any errors discovered in election records during a canvass must be corrected.
“If any of the records are found to be incomplete or to contain errors other than minor omissions, spelling errors or obvious mathematical mistakes, the election inspectors who were responsible for completing the records must be summoned to the canvass to correct the documents,” the state manual says.
Melvin (Butch) Hollowell, a lawyer for the Duggan campaign, said lawyers for Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett and the board of canvassers advised the board to count only ballot books that had tallies marked with hash marks — vertical slashes of four with a horizontal line to mark five — instead of whole numbers. Ballot book tallies had variations for totals, some marked with hashes, some with whole numbers, and some with combinations of the two.
Jocelyn Benson, interim dean of the Wayne State University Law School, said there is no language in state law that requires the recording of hash marks for write-in votes to be counted.
“Nothing in the law says these ballots — if properly cast — should, as a result of an error in tallying, not ultimately be counted,” she said.
Further, the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that a vote for a write-in candidate should count when the voter’s intent is clear.
Benson said the Wayne County board is proceeding properly by handing off the issue to the state.
It isn’t clear whether or not Detroit trained poll workers to use hash marks, given the likelihood of a write-in campaign by Duggan, who was removed from the official ballot in June because of a residency challenge.
The strangest aspect of the entire affair is that, regardless of which sets of returns you use, Duggan and Napoleon will square off again in November in the general election. Still, the dispute over hash marks is a useful reminder of the need to clarify procedures for poll workers – and decide what to do if those procedures aren’t followed.