IRVING TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — In a county whose sheriff continues to make unproven claims about the 2020 presidential election, voters who cast their ballots Tuesday were nonetheless determined to make their voices heard.
Indeed, Sheriff Dar Leaf’s controversial stance actually convinced one man to vote in person because he feared the sheriff himself might interfere with mail-in ballots.
“I wanted to come in and vote in person because I don’t trust the mail-in ballot with Dar Leaf as my sheriff,” said the voter, who did not want to share his name. “I was concerned about whether my vote would be counted or not.”
The man was particularly disturbed by the actions of a sheriff’s investigator whom, according to Michigan State Police, removed a Dominion voting tabulator from the Irving Township Hall in 2021.
A detective sergeant with Michigan State Police who observed the tabulator after its return to Irving Township noted the machine’s security seal had been broken.
In April, state police seized that same tabulator for its investigation into reports an unauthorized third party had been given access to vote tabulator components and technology.
“I have concerns about living here in Barry County and the sheriff taking the voting systems,” said the voter.
But another voter said he supports Leaf’s ongoing inquiry.
“You don’t really always know the full story,” said Cole Shoobridge, referring to the 2020 presidential election.
Still, Shoobridge said his skepticism would not keep him from participating in primary day.
“To have the best chance to have things go the way you want, I think that’s the way to do it,” said Shoobridge, explaining he wanted to vote in person instead of by mail.
Two more voters told News 8 they were not aware of the sheriff’s investigation, nor that of Michigan State Police.
“We have the right and responsibility to vote, and I believe we should exercise it,” said Laurie Prine, who explained she does not follow the news. “If we don’t (vote), then you can’t complain about whoever’s in office.”
Rachel Stratman moved to Barry County one year ago from Washington state to be near her husband’s parents.
“First of all, I have no idea what you’re talking about (regarding) the sheriff,” said Stratman, who emigrated from India 30 years ago.
“This is the best country in the world to live,” said Stratman, referring to America. “It is my civic duty (to vote), and it’s been a great honor. As you can see, I put a sticker on there.”
As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, the precinct chairperson for Irving Township estimated turnout at 25%.
“It’s a steady flow,” said chairperson Susan Vlietstra. “It seems fairly consistent with a primary election.”
Vlietstra said while they’re obviously not using the same tabulator seized by Leaf’s investigator and then Michigan State Police, they are using the same type of equipment, Dominion vote tabulators.
“During the day (we) match the tabulator, which is the ballots cast number, with the electronic poll book, which is the ballots issued,” explained Vlietstra. “At the end of the night those numbers have to match. So we’ve been balancing those on an hourly basis and everything is working great.”
Barry County Clerk Pam Palmer said everything worked perfectly in November 2020 as well.
“We didn’t do anything wrong in 2020, so we are not making any changes,” said Palmer. “We balanced to the ballot (in 2020). I expect that everything will be going smoothly (today).”
Palmer said she wants to assure the public that the county has taken every precaution to ensure all votes are counted.
“I know there’s been a cloud cast over this county and I think it’s an unfounded cloud. Like I said before, we balanced to the ballot. If there is a township or a precinct that is off even by one ballot, they have to come in and re-tabulate. My canvassers are adamant that they balance,” said Palmer, noting every single ballot was counted in 2020.
Barry County Prosecutor Julie Nakfoor Pratt reviewed reports from Leaf in 2021 and told News 8 she found no evidence of fraud.
Then, in mid-July, Nakfoor Pratt reviewed reports regarding the sheriff’s allegation that more than 600 votes were unaccounted for in one Barry County township.
“I do not have probable cause to believe there were 600 votes stolen from anywhere,” Nakfoor Pratt, a Republican, told News 8 after her most recent review.
The prosecutor had no comment on Leaf’s announcement that he will continue to investigate.
The sheriff has filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming it’s interfering with his investigation.
He has also threatened to order a grand jury be convened to look into his allegations.