2020, Featured Post — February 11, 2020 at 7:25 am

Preventing the Iowa Caucus Dumpster Fire in Michigan

Apps vs Paper Ballots

After the Iowa Caucus disaster last week, I received many calls inquiring how we (Michigan election officials) were going to make sure Michigan’s primary election does not turn into an Iowa-level debacle.

While there are many things that set Michigan apart from Iowa, at its core, the main reason this will not happen in Michigan is simple: Michigan has professionals running our elections.

  1. The Michigan Presidential Primary Election will be run as a primary election and not as a caucus. Although I am often frustrated that taxpayers pay for party elections (specifically, Precinct Delegates), the Iowa Caucus was run by the Iowa Democratic Party, and not the State of Iowa.
  2. Michigan Elections are run by certified election officials. Over 1,500 certified election officials run Michigan’s elections: City and Township Clerks, who are either elected or appointed and 83 County Clerks who are elected. There are accreditation programs, certifications, and training for those clerks provided by the State of Michigan’s Bureau of Elections and other professional organizations.
  3. Michigan Elections are run on federally and state-certified election equipment. In Michigan, there are three different types of election computers that run the elections for all of Michigan’s 83 counties. Therefore, if there is a computer problem, it should not affect the entire state. Further, the election equipment (computers and tabulators) must be certified by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and the Secretary of State, Bureau of Elections Office, so our elections are not just run on a fly-by-night computer technology.
  4. Michigan Elections are done with paper ballots. The utilization of paper ballots is perhaps the most important security measure for elections. Paper is the safest method a voter can use to secretly vote. Not only do paper ballots afford the opportunity to perform recounts and audits, but they also cannot disappear with a keystroke.
  5. Michigan’s government is extremely decentralized and, as such, there is no one way that unofficial election night results are transmitted to counties. There have been some reports that individuals intentionally and maliciously flooded the Iowa Caucus’ reporting hotline and therefore those individuals who were trying to call in with results were unable. In Michigan, election results are communicated in a variety of different ways to counties. The County Clerks then publish unofficial results (typically on their county’s website). Once all precincts have reported, the County Clerks then submit unofficial results for specified races to the State Bureau of Elections for publication.
  6. Numerous checks and balances are embedded in Michigan’s election processes. Not only are Michigan elections run with paper ballots, we have Public Accuracy Testing meetings to ensure the tabulators, that County Clerks are responsible for programming ahead of elections, properly read marked ballots. This is done by the city and township clerks. Local clerks have strict procedures to make sure voter lists are downloaded and printed properly, the number of individuals who vote equal the number of votes tabulated, etc.

This is not to say that Michigan does not have room to improve how we manage and administer our elections. Michigan has a history of efficiently and accurately reporting unofficial election night results, however, without updated Michigan Election legislation, we may be forced to wait for results. With the passage of Proposal 3 in 2018, which permits absentee voting (voting by mail) without needing to supply a reason, local clerks are noticing significant increases in absent voter ballots and ballot requests coming in and they need the flexibility to start processing those voted ballots earlier (current law does not permit opening AV envelopes until 7:00am on Election Day).

Enabling our elections officials to start processing AV ballots the day before the election day will allow Michigan’s election officials to report the unofficial results of elections in a timely fashion, which is vitally important for public confidence. During the Iowa Caucus, we were told that we needed patience, and that it is better to be accurate than quick, however the delays and uncertainty allowed disinformation to spread like wildfire.

Michigan election administrators will certainly do everything in our power to accurately and quickly process votes but we do need some flexibility, which is why many of us attended the Senate Election Committee, a couple of weeks ago, to ask for support of legislation that would permit the processing of absent voter ballots on the day before the election. While the legislation is not perfect, as I wrote recently, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

I call upon the citizens of Michigan to get more involved in election administration: Attend a Public Accuracy Testing Meeting, work on Election Day as a precinct inspector or volunteer with a voter protection agency.