Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson disputes claims by Republican National Committee chair on Michigan’s ballot counting process

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel calls for investigation

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

DETROIT – Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson dispute claims made by Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in regards to Michigan’s ballot counting process.

McDaniel called for an investigation on Friday on the process, saying, “Today (Friday), we announce the Republican National Committee has deployed legal teams in four states, including Michigan, to investigate vote tabulations in those states."

READ: Republican National Committee chair calls for investigation into Michigan ballot-counting process

In response to McDaniel’s claims, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson issued the following “statements of fact”:

  • Michigan’s elections were conducted fairly, effectively and transparently and are an accurate reflection of the will of Michigan voters.
  • The erroneous reporting of unofficial results from Antrim County was a result of accidental error on the part of the Antrim County Clerk. The equipment and software did not malfunction and all ballots were properly tabulated. However, the clerk accidentally did not update the software used to collect voting machine data and report unofficial results.
  • Like many counties in Michigan, Antrim County uses the Dominion Voting Systems election management system and voting machines (ballot tabulators.) The county receives programming support from Election Source. Tabulators are programmed to scan hand marked, paper ballots. When machines are finished scanning the ballots, the paper ballots are retained and a totals tape showing the number of votes for each candidate in each race is printed from the machine.
  • In order to report unofficial results, county clerks use election management system software to combine the electronic totals from tabulators and submit a report of unofficial results. Because the clerk did not update software, even though the tabulators counted all the ballots correctly, those accurate results were not combined properly when the clerk reported unofficial results.
  • The correct results always were and continue to be reflected on the tabulator totals tape and on the ballots themselves. Even if the error in the reported unofficial results had not been quickly noticed, it would have been identified during the county canvass. Boards of County Canvassers, which are composed of 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans, review the printed totals tape from each tabulator during the canvass to verify the reported vote totals are correct.
  • The software did not cause a misallocation of votes; it was a result of user human error. Even when human error occurs, it is caught during county canvasses.
  • It is also completely false that the county had to or will have to hand count all their ballots. The ballots were properly counted by the tabulators. The county had to review the printed tabulator results from each precinct, not each individual ballot.
  • As with other unofficial results reporting errors, this was an honest mistake and did not affect any actual vote totals. Election clerks work extremely hard and do their work with integrity. They are human beings, and sometimes make mistakes. However, there are many checks and balances that ensure mistakes can be caught and corrected.

This week at the TCF Center in Detroit, Republican poll watchers claimed they were tossed from the building and not allowed to observe the ballot-counting process. However, officials have said that the counting room was already at capacity for the amount of “watchers” that were allowed to observe the process at one time.

READ: ‘Watchers’ denied access to ballot counting at Detroit TCF Center due to COVID restrictions

READ: Michigan House Speaker says GOP will launch vote counting inquiry

Officials have said that individuals from both the Democratic and Republican parties were present during the ballot-counting process at the TCF Center. In Michigan, a number of individuals are allowed to observe the process to ensure transparency, but that number has been limited this year due to coronavirus restrictions.

McDaniel also called out senior Detroit election director Chris Thomas, claiming he told poll workers to back date ballots.

“Michigan needs election reform. It is time for Democrats to join us because well never have success in our election if we don’t fix what’s happening in Detroit,” she said.

In response, Thomas issued a statement saying, “The accusations are wrong and reveal the person making them doesn’t know Michigan’s election process. The scenario described actually shows a process designed to eliminate errors to do just that. In the State of Michigan, voters are not disenfranchised by clerical errors.”

Benson also addressed the claim and said, "As Detroit officials have stated, hundreds of challengers from both parties were inside their absent voter counting board all afternoon and evening. And even after some left, there were always challengers from both parties in the room. Dozens of reporters were in the room as well. Further, some windows were covered to stop those outside from filming the people and private information in the counting board, while other windows were left uncovered to ensure additional transparency.

“As was stated by Chris Thomas, who as a contractor for the Detroit City Clerk’s Office served as an advisor on the execution of this election and led challenger relations, and who is the former Michigan Director of Elections, who served under both republican and democrat Secretaries of State during his 40-year-tenure with the Bureau of Elections, no ballots were backdated. Rather, a clerical error was made when some ballot envelopes were received in Detroit satellite offices. Although employees stamped a date of receipt on the envelopes, an employee failed to complete the transaction for receiving the ballot by saving that date in the Qualified Voter File. Therefore, at the absent voter counting board, after discussion with Republican challengers who chose not to challenge the process, staff was instructed to enter that date stamped on the envelope ensuring that no voters were disenfranchised by the clerical error.”

READ: Breaking down President Trump’s claims regarding ballot counting in Detroit

This comes a few days after the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims, seeking to halt the counting of ballots until it is given “meaningful access to numerous counting locations to observe the opening of ballots and the counting process.”

The lawsuit has since been denied by Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens.

There is no evidence of any nefarious activity in Michigan, as ballot counting delays were expected, given the massive increase in absentee voting.

The Republican-led Michigan State House and Senate will hold hearings on the “voting and counting process” in the state, according to House Speaker Lee Chatfield.

“Every single legal vote needs to be counted, regardless of who cast it or who they voted for. And then the candidate who wins the most of those votes will win Michigan’s electoral votes, just like it always has been. Nothing about that process will change in 2020,” Chatfield said in a statement Friday. “That is why the House and Senate oversight committees will begin hearings soon looking into the voting and counting process in our state to give everyone confidence in the results and to make sure the next election runs much more smoothly.”

Despite minor technical issues in some counties, the Michigan Secretary of State contends the election, given the record-breaking turnout, went smoothly and results were reported ahead of schedule.

Follow 2020 General Election results live here

About the Author:

DeJanay Booth joined WDIV as a web producer in July 2020. She previously worked as a news reporter in New Mexico before moving back to Michigan.