Township turmoil, absentee ballots nullified for recount after error

Muskegon County

DALTON TOWNSHIP — Weeks after the Aug. 4 primary election — which saw many close contests across West Michigan — one Muskegon County township has admitted a mistake.

The winner of the Republican nomination for Dalton Township Supervisor was officially declared after a recount, which only counted two of four precincts. It named Jeffrey Alexander Martin the winner by nine votes.

That happened after election workers placed an unknown number of absentee ballots in a bag they never should have been placed in, making them ineligible for a recount. 

The night of the primary, the Republican nominee for township supervisor was decided by eight votes. Later, the number was changed to nine votes in the recount — but the recount didn’t look at all absentee votes cast; instead it only included 50% of them. 

“This is corruption,” Republican candidate for township supervisor Rory Rought said. “It’s corruption and it needs to be accounted for.”

Rought is a six-year resident of Dalton Township, a police officer serving in Muskegon Heights for nearly twenty and only eight votes away from a primary win.

“I won the vote where people came to the precincts and voted in person, the following morning the absentee ballots were cast or counted and I ended up losing by eight votes,” Rought said. “Eight votes is pretty close for an election, so I decided to request a recount. I had no idea anything was out of the ordinary at this point.”

It was at the recount where Rought and others learned of a mistake, which the township explains in a statement on its website.

Dalton Township Clerk Lori Hayes says the township received more absentee ballots than they had anticipated. That was compounded by a new tabulator machine and a lack of certifiable bags for the ballots. 

When more and more absentees came in, Hayes placed them in a bag which could not be certified, though it was sealed and its ballots counted. They were simply ineligible for a recount. 

“Once that’s sealed, it can’t be opened,” Rought said. “That’s the law and that’s the way it was explained to me.”

Still, the error irks both candidates, even winner Jeffrey Alexander Martin, who’s own margin of victory was slightly changed after the recount. 

“I think it was an actual, legitimate, mistake,” he said. “An error, a serious one, but I think it was an oversight. I don’t think that bag is corrupted. The odds that there would be nine or t10 votes changed in those two precincts is tiny. It’s very small, so it shouldn’t be an issue. What it does do is it tarnishes the township.”

Township officials say they have addressed the mistake and to prevent it from happening again, they purchased more certifiable ballot bags to accommodate the rise in absentee votings for November’s election. 

“It’s definitely a problem that it occurred, and it’s good that they’re getting it fixed at least,” Martin said. “They’re major concerns for me. They’re major problems. I hope they are ready for the next one.”

For Rought, the fight is not over. He says he’ll run again in November, this time as a write-in candidate, where he hopes his supporters will fill in the blanks and the new bags with his name.

“We’re gonna continue to fight it tooth and nail,” Rought said. “This is where our family lives and this is where my kids go to school and we like it here, so we’re not gonna let them scare us outta here. If only just for the sole fact that I’m not ready to give up on this process yet.”

Both Rought and Martin say they hope the incident serves as a wake-up call for voters. They hope more will step up and get involved as vote counters and poll watchers in the November election to try and prevent something like this from happening again or on a larger scale. 

There is also a Democrat on the ballot: Tony Barnes. He ran unopposed in the primary.

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