Broken polling machines may have put vote counts in question in more than half of Detroit’s precincts and nearly one-third of surrounding Wayne County, possibly throwing the Michigan recount into chaos.
If the discrepancies can’t be solved by recounting every paper ballot in question by hand, a recount in those precincts simply won’t happen.
Donald Trump’s slim margin over Hillary Clinton means any chance that the state might flip on a recount likely hinges on Wayne County, where she won by a landslide. Clinton lost by 10,704 votes in Michigan; Wayne’s population of 1,759,335 makes it the likeliest candidate to contain errors bigger than that margin.
Eighty-seven of Wayne County’s decade-old voting machines broke on election day, according to Detroit’s elections director, Daniel Baxter. He told the Detroit News, which first reported the story, that ballot scanners often jammed when polling place workers were trying to operate them. Every time a jammed ballot was removed and reinserted, he suspects the machine may have re-counted it.
Preliminary investigation by election officials in Wayne County found that 610 of the area’s 1,680 precincts could not reconcile the number of votes cast according to the machines with the number of ballots issued according to the electoral rolls. Detroit contains 662 of Wayne’s precincts; in 392 of those, the number of votes didn’t match up.
Baxter told the News he was confident a recount would match the ballots issued to the paper records, which are sealed and stored under guard. “I don’t think it’s going to be 100%,” he said, “but it never is with a recount.”
If hand-tallied ballots can’t resolve all the mismatches, the votes will stand in the counties where the errors remain.
State law rejects a recount in places where the two figures don’t match up: a precinct is ineligible to be recounted if the “number of ballots to be recounted and the number of ballots issued on election day as shown on the poll list or the computer printout do not match and the difference is not explained to the satisfaction of the board of canvassers,” the law says.
The recount was triggered by Green party candidate Jill Stein in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. On Monday, Stein asked a federal court to intervene in Pennsylvania after state courts demanded a million-dollar bond before it would proceed.
Computer scientists have been sounding the alarm about shoddily made, insecure and incompatible voting machines for several years. The only way to find out whether technical problems or even malicious hacking have contributed large errors to the electoral tally is to audit the vote, wrote the University of Michigan’s J Alex Halderman in an affidavit supporting Stein’s call for a recount. Now that a recount is under way, Michigan officials are indeed finding major technical problems.
Jeremy J Epstein, a researcher with SRI, successfully campaigned in 2015 to have Virginia’s WinVote machines decertified when he discovered that the factory-set network passwords for WinVote voting machines were often “abcde” and “admin”.