How Michigan’s county clerks make sure your vote is counted and the election is secure

What happens after you cast your vote?

With 14 days until the next election, Local 4 takes a deep dive on what happens after you cast your ballot.

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. – In Michigan, there are 1,600 clerks running elections in 83 counties all at once.

That means millions of votes are cast and counted. But it all starts with a single ballot.

“Clerks are really a belt and suspenders people we have back-ups to back-ups,” said Adam Wit.

Wit is the clerk for Harrison Township and has been for 10 years. He’s also the president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks.

“When you get your ballot it has a number on top and everyone is a unique number for each precinct so we know we’re only giving out one ballot number one or one ballot number two. Can’t bring in your own ballot. We’re the only ones that have them,” Wit said.

Once the ballot is filled out it goes to machines called tabulators. They read votes just like a scantron test in school and can even take pictures to make sure write-in candidates are counted. And that process is done -- over and over and over and over -- until the end of the night when polls close and it’s time to get to work.

First, the box inside is unlocked making sure the seal on the tabulator stick is unbroken. The stick is a flash drive with a tamper-evident seal. That has to be intact and match their records to the machine. Then they hit print. The machine spits out what amounts to an election receipt time and date three times. One for the county board of canvassers, One for a county judge and one for the local clerk and it all gets triple checked.

“If we’ve had 100 voters, we know that there are going to be 100 ballots that have run through the machine, the tabulator will tell us 100. The poll book will tell us 100. So we’re tying all these numbers together to make sure the count’s valid,” Wit said.

After that, it’s the ballot count, matching the number of ballots in the locked box inside the tabulator to the number of voters they counted that day to the number in the poll, each signed off on by a Republican and a Democrat.

The ballots are then stored, again under a signed lock and seal in a box or bag. That flash drive in its own tamper-evident sealed pouch is taken to the county clerk’s office. Like Anthony Forlini’s in Macomb County.

“It’s driven in down here. We get these, we put them into our secured server, which is not on the internet,” Forlini said. “We put it into our software and the reports are put up live and the media gets their numbers late at night.”

Macomb County wouldn’t let Local 4 show the server itself for voter security reasons. But once those are up, the county verifies the votes and sends the stick back to the local clerk with a matching seal. The unofficial results go up and the canvassing or review process starts all over for the next few weeks until the election is signed off on by the county and eventually the state. All designed as fail safes to make sure nothing got missed and everything got counted.

The clerks don’t see having to explain the process as an inconvenience but as a chance to prove election protection.

“I think we have a responsibility to do our job with that hanging over us. I think we have a responsibility to be transparent,” said Forlini.

“It’s a lack of information for people so as clerks it’s our job to get out to people and spread true information to be trusted resources for people so we’re looking for an opportunity to share,” Wit said.