Human error attributed to wrong tally in Muskegon city commissioner race

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Muskegon had to clarify primary election results after a post to social media showed the incorrect tallies.

On Tuesday, Muskegon voters were given ballots with the names of five city commission candidates: Rachel Gorman, Michael Hughes, John Page, Rebecca St. Clair and Daniel Sybenga. Voters were only allowed to pick two names correlating with the number of open commission seats.

“I actually felt more confident than I probably should have,” city commission candidate John Page said.

At the end of the night, the city posted unofficial results that showed Gorman, Sybenga, St. Clair and Hughes would be moving forward to the general election.

“My opponent had gotten 77 votes in my home district, when there was only maybe 150 votes total cast. So, I wondered how? I wondered how I could have gotten beat that bad in my home district,” Page said of the initial results.

The City Clerk’s office soon discovered those results were not correct and Hughes didn’t receive enough votes to head to the general election. The correct results showed Page had received the fourth most votes and would be one of four candidates whose name would be on the November ballot. The city credited the mix up to human error.

City Clerk Ann Meisch says days before the election, staffers performed routine testing on their tabulators and ballot marking devices. Meisch says the tabulators worked perfectly fine, but there was a glitch with a ballot marking device. Because of this, Muskegon County officials had to reprogram the machine.

The city also had to order new ballots from the county. Meisch says this also meant the city would have to manually report election results instead of using a machine like they typically do.

“Our election process here is solid, but at the end of the day, there’s also about 100 people who are working on this election, and we are all human. Even the best of us make mistakes,” Meisch said. “Normally when you hit ‘close polls,’ all of the information is just transferred immediately, so there’s no chance of error in terms of humans.”

Meisch says Tuesday election staffers were using a spreadsheet to record results and when copying the information over to another sheet, they didn’t realize the names of candidates were in a different order. As a result, the count for in-person voting was thrown off.

Meisch says she was immediately concerned that misreporting the tallies would lend credence to conspiracy theories about voter fraud.

“It’s more heartbreaking than anything because I take a lot of pride in elections and so does my deputy and we’re very, very experienced in them. We are some of the leaders in the election industry. Even though we didn’t do it, there’s a lot of would of, should of, could of,” Meisch said.

Meisch says she’s inviting more people to be a part of the election process as inspectors. Both the clerk and Page say they’re hoping this does not impact voter turnout or confidence in election security.

“I absolutely don’t think there was anything that had any malicious intent, but it shows that there still has to be an accountability and transparency side,” Page said.

News 8 reached out to Hughes for an interview, but the candidate was not immediately available.

The general election takes place on Nov. 2.

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