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Detroit recount ends with no changed results, lingering questions

Dec 8, 2017

Detroit’s partial recount of the November 7 general election is over.

The recount didn’t change the results of any races, but it did highlight some issues that continue to plague the city’s elections.

City clerk candidate Garlin Gilchrist requested a partial recount of that race, which he narrowly lost to incumbent Janice Winfrey.

Ballot canisters for some Detroit precincts at the Wayne County Board of Canvassers.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The recount confirmed Winfrey’s win. But 33 precincts representing more than 7,000 votes couldn’t be re-tallied at all.

“It was just disheartening to see canister after canister that were deemed un-recountable, because the seals were broken, because the ballot canisters themselves were broken, or because the numbers didn’t match,” Gilchrist said.

Michigan election law doesn’t allow precincts to be recounted when the number of voters in poll books doesn’t match the number of ballots in the box.

In the case of precinct 156, from Detroit’s St. John Presbyterian Church, poll books showed that 145 voters cast ballots. But when election workers opened up the canister, there were only five ballots inside.

Detroit director of elections Daniel Baxter says those missing ballots were later found in a storage container. Still, he said the incident is “high on our radar.”

“We’ll try to reduce these issues from occurring in the future by effectively training poll workers,” Baxter said.

While conceding the race, Gilchrist said he and others “will continue to be part of this fight to add trust, transparency and accountability to the voting process in Detroit.

“We only requested a recount of 160 of the 590 voting units in Detroit,” he said. “If you project that out, that’s a significant number of votes that we would not be able to verify. And that is unacceptable.”

Partial recounts in several district-level City Council races also revealed a handful of un-recountable precincts and some slight changes in vote tallies, but did not change any election night results. 

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers certified those results Friday evening.