Washtenaw County Clerk, Larry Kestenbaum, recently spoke at the Dexter Forum on the subject of potential voter fraud in Michigan and overall election security.
2018 is a huge year for election in Michigan. Every state representative and state senator is up for re-election. All representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington D.C. are up for re-election as well as one U.S. Senator, Debbie Stabenow. Only U.S. Senator Gary Peters is not up for re-election.
It is a powerful year for voters to determine the future direction of Michigan. And with the elections on the horizon, election security is getting more attention. At the Forum, Larry was asked to comment on the vulnerability of Michigan’s voting system.
“We have throughout the state of Michigan the optical scan paper ballots,” Larry began. “The ballots are always available to be recounted. We don’t rely solely on the computer to give us the vote count.”
For a number of years now, the State of Michigan and its counties have cooperatively conducted random precinct audits to check that the work is being done properly. However, those audits did not include hand counting ballots and comparing them to the reported machine counts.
Times have changed. The 2016 election has sharpened concern over election fraud with worries that the voting machines might somehow be hacked. Michigan has responded to those concerns. “The State has announced that they will now be hand counting ballots in these audits going forward and compare counts between the equipment and actual,” Larry said.
In addition to the new audit procedures, new voting equipment has been purchased for the entire state. All the equipment for every precinct has been replaced simultaneously. But while all the equipment is new, it’s not all the same system. Each county had their choice of purchasing one of three different voting systems. The only real challenge will be for cities that straddle two counties with different systems such as Milan which is part in Washtenaw and part in Monroe Counties.
Larry wants to reassure Michigan voters. “With the old equipment, it was possible to break into the machine if you were standing very close to it,” he explained. “If there was a coordinated effort around the state involving thousands of people … that would be something to worry about.”
“The new system is more secure than the old system because the old system was not designed around security. In the 70’s and 80’s when that equipment was developed, they weren’t thinking about security. The new equipment is much more robust in that regard. We’re very confident in what we have.”
A little known fact that adds to security and accountability is that the paper ballots are kept for two years after the election. Under the Freedom of Information Act, any organization who wants to recount the ballots for themselves could come in and under supervision, do so.
Larry told the group that during the last presidential election, more than 2 million ballots were hand counted in Michigan. “All the precincts we did hand counts for were all correct,” he told the group. “There was no evidence with anything wrong with any of the equipment, and that was the old equipment we were using at that point.”
Larry also announced that many jurisdictions are actively recruiting election workers. It’s a long day that pays 12-14 dollars an hour depending on your location. Anyone interested should contact the city or township clerk of where they would like to work.
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