County clerks testify at state hearing on Nov. 3 election

Elections

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Three Michigan county clerks testified before state House and Senate members Thursday as part of a joint Oversight Committee’s investigation into the presidential election. 

The advisory for the hearing cited “numerous news reports of election irregularities across Michigan” that it says have “have raised questions about the functionality and transparency of our state’s election process.”

“The House and Senate panels will hear presentations from county clerk officials to evaluate the state’s election process, deliver answers to concerned residents and glean best practices for the future,” the advisory continued.

Claims of widespread voter fraud — mostly perpetuated by President Donald Trump, who lost Michigan to Democratic challenger Joe Biden, and his supporters — have been swiftly refuted by election officials and dismissed by judges.

Among the clerks testifying Thursday was Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons, who told lawmakers that “elections in Kent County are secure, transparent and fair.” She added she couldn’t speak for clerks outside her jurisdiction.

Posthumus Lyons said 59% of ballots cast in Kent County in the Nov. 3 election were absentee. While it takes longer to count absentee votes than those cast in person, she said the slow process did not constitute a delay.

“Counting every legal vote accurately is not a delay in the process. It is the process,” she said.

She also explained the canvassing and vote certification process, which involves a bipartisan team that reviews tabulating machine records, vote totals and poll books and is open to the public.

Posthumus Lyons, a Republican, did reaffirm her disagreement with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office’s decision to mail absentee applications to every registered voter this year, saying requiring people to request such an application would bolster election integrity.

She provided the committee with this series of recommendations to improve state election law and procedures:

  • Establish best practices for absentee counting boards with regards to Poll Challengers / Poll Watchers.
  • Explore and discuss the possibility of a “time out” period for counting absentee ballots. cease counting at 1 a.m., and return at 9 a.m. the next morning to resume with fresh eyes.
  • Establish guidelines for the Poll Challengers / Poll Watchers in city or township offices leading up to Election Day, when voters are obtaining and returning absentee ballots.
  • Prevent the unsolicited mailings of absentee ballot applications by any election official.
  • Prevent electronic absentee ballot applications until/unless there’s signature verification software and training.
  • Implement signature verification software and training.
  • Prevent third-party organizations (such as Rock the Vote) or non-accredited election officials from having access to the Qualified Voter File.
  • Give County Clerks the authority and access in QVF to remove deceased people from the voter file.

“With the huge influx of absentee voting — I don’t believe that is going to diminish much more in the future elections — that makes signature verification absolutely critical in our integrity,” Posthumus Lyons said.

ANTRIM COUNTY CLERK EXPLAINS COUNTING PROBLEM

Lawmakers also heard from Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy, a Republican, who tried to explain what caused the initial vote results to be wrong in that county.

Antrim County initially appeared to have voted for Democrat Joe Biden, but in a county that is historically red, the error was quickly noticed and the votes recounted, giving Antrim to Republican President Donald Trump by a margin of about 4,000 votes.

The problem, according to Kentwood-based software provider ElectionSource, was that clerk’s office employees didn’t reprogram the system correctly after the ballots were changed to add a candidate.

“We did not realize that we had to reprogram all the tabulator compact cards for all the townships therefore the error caused the election night program to not load correctly,” Clerk Guy explained to state lawmakers Thursday. “I cannot express how very unfortunate it is that the human error has called into question the integrity of Antrim County’s elections.”

She had some trouble explaining to the committee that those compact cards are separate from the tabulator tapes that each machine kicks out. Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, who also testified, was brought in to help make the process clear.

County boards of canvassers routinely cross-check tabulator tapes with the software, so even if the error had not been noticed almost immediately, the canvassers would have caught it before the results were certified.

Byrum, a Democrat, provided News 8 with a statement before the hearing:

“The November Presidential Election required the hard work of 83 County Clerks, over 1,500 municipal clerks and thousands of others. We were forced to carry out the election under difficult circumstances; we were forced to rethink how an election can be conducted while limiting exposure to a deadly disease. I am speaking before the Committee today to testify that despite the seeds of doubt that have been sown by the President and his supporters in dark corners of the internet, this election ran smoothly and was both safe and secure. I am testifying to inform the legislators of the checks and balances that already exist in our Election law to protect us from the kind of malfeasance that the President is alleging and to offer some actual solutions that would satisfy actual concerns that professional elections administrators, like myself, have about conducting our elections.”

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum

BENSON: AUDITS TO BEGIN SOON

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, on Thursday released an explanation of the upcoming risk-limiting audit of the election, stressing it has been in the works for nearly two years, as well as performance audits of local jurisdictions, which happen routinely after the Board of State Canvassers certifies the vote.

“Notably, audits are neither designed to address nor performed in response to false or mythical allegations of ‘irregularities’ that have no basis in fact,” Benson said in a statement. “Where evidence exists of actual fraud or wrongdoing, it should be submitted in writing to the Bureau of Elections, which refers all credible allegations to the Attorney General’s office for further investigation.”

Benson said her office piloted the risk-limiting office after the March primary and that it “demonstrated the results of our elections are accurate and provided an extra layer of security as we prepared for November’s election.”

The annual local audits, she went on to explain after the Board of State Canvassers finishes its work because that’s when state officials can legally get access to the appropriate paperwork. Benson said the audits will look at any clerical errors identified during the election process and look for ways to improve in the future.

“This a typical, standard procedure following election certification, and one that will be carried out in Wayne County and any other local jurisdictions where the data shows significant clerical errors following state certification of the November election,” Benson said.

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