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Think Michigan’s recount seems messy? Turns out recount laws date back to 1870s.

Dec 7, 2016

The legal battles over the statewide recount of Michigan's presidential election results have been raging.

Michigan voters cast ballots on Election Day.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

At the same time, another story is clearly emerging: Precincts that cannot be recounted because of Michigan's recount law, which dates back to 1954.

To understand this better, Stateside's Cynthia Canty spoke with Mark Grebner of Practical Political Consulting. He is a longtime political consultant and election observer in Michigan. He's also an incoming Ingham County Commissioner, and a Democrat. 

Under Michigan’s recount law, if there are disparities between the numbers recorded in a given precinct’s poll book on election night and the number of ballots collected for that precinct, the precinct is not eligible for a recount.

But this begs the question: If the numbers aren’t matching, shouldn’t that be a reason to recount the ballots?

"All of Michigan election law is sort of an exploration in history."

“You would think that,” Grebner said. “But the result of Michigan law is that the worse that the precinct was run on Election Day — the more confused they were, the more ballots they lost track of — that is a precinct you can’t count. But if the precinct was run perfectly, then you can recount them.”

Part of the problem, Grebner explained, is that Michigan voting law is out of date.

“All of Michigan election law is sort of an exploration in history. I think that the law was re-codified in 1954, but I think it actually dates to the 1870s.”

Which is to say nothing of Michigan’s vote-counting system, which, according to Grebner, is “actually really bad.”

“It makes errors in any given race in about one quarter of one percent of all ballots. In other words, if you count a thousand ballots, you’re going to get two or three errors in every precinct that has a thousand ballots.”

Listen to the full interview above. 

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