The Michigan Board of State Canvassers meets Monday, June 10 in Delta Township, Mich.

The Michigan Board of Canvassers demanded the Secretary of State require election workers in Detroit to thoroughly follow guidelines for processing absentee ballots after its precincts were left unbalanced in the primary election.

The board discussed the Wayne County Board of Canvassers’ recent request for state oversight of how election workers in Detroit are trained at an Aug. 24 meeting where it certified the results of Michigan’s primary election. The board was alarmed to find out 72% of the absentee voting precincts in Detroit weren’t balanced and 46% of all Detroit’s precincts, both absentee and in-person, weren’t balanced.

Secretary of State Joceyln Benson does have supervisory control over elections. The board voted 4-0 to require Benson to provide a list of actions she’s taking to prevent Detroit’s precincts from being unbalanced in the Nov. 3 general election.

“I can speak for all of us when I say we were really appalled by what happened in Detroit,” said Democrat Julie Matuzak, a board of canvassers member. “We want to know what’s going to be done to help the folks running the elections in Detroit.”

Johnathan Brater, the secretary for Board of State Canvassers, said the SOS can invoke supervisory control when the bureau is directing election workers who aren’t fulfilling their roles, for whatever reason.

“(We) are emphasizing training ahead of the election in November,” Brater said.

Brater said election workers in Detroit didn’t record absentee ballots as soon as they came in, hand-marked ballots in the incorrect poll books and weren’t putting absentee ballots in the appropriate boxes.

The Board of Canvassers requested a thorough report of what happened in Detroit, the actions the SOS plans on taking to prevent unbalanced precincts in November and an additional meeting to discuss how election workers are being trained in Detroit.

Jonathan Kinloch, the vice-chair of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, said unseasoned election workers in many of Detroit’s precincts didn’t properly record why certain changes were made to a ballot. For instance, a ballot may have been canceled and that change wasn’t properly noted by an election worker.

The coronavirus pandemic kept many of the county’s seasoned election workers at home making clerk offices to make new hires without adequate training, according to Kinloch.

“The blame falls on untrained election workers and those who hired them,” Kinloch said. “It’s fine to have new folks but you need the appropriate level of training and oversight.”

Kinloch said an investigation by Wayne County’s board of canvassers found some election workers left before finishing the job, leaving precincts unbalanced. Michigan elections are conducted under a rigorous check-and-balance system where polling places and absent voter counting boards are operated by bipartisan teams of election inspectors, according to state procedure .

“That is unacceptable,” Kinloch said. “Whether it’s training or whether these people should never work on an election, the bottom line is that we cannot have these types of deficiencies.”

Balancing a precinct is important because state law doesn’t allow precincts’ votes to be recounted if the results aren’t balanced, Kinloch said.

“It warranted us to ask the Secretary of State to come in and lend some additional guidance as well as appoint a monitor because we definitely don’t want to see these types of issues in November,” Kinloch said.

Kinloch describes the “perfect storm” of challenges Detroit precincts face: untrained election workers processed record-high numbers of absentee ballots during a pandemic without the necessary resources or staffing.

“Detroit had imbalanced precinct issues in past elections,” Kinloch said. “However, we have seen improvements in the few elections since 2016. Especially, after they integrated electronic poll books at their election day precincts.”

Kinloch said changes the SOS is suggesting may “may address a few of their operational challenges during this pandemic.”

“A large part of what is required under Michigan Election Law for a recount is accuracy. Instituting verification teams throughout the process from the moment an application is processed, a ballot is issued, returned; makes its way through the AV Counting Board to the tabulator, could make a world of a difference,” Kinloch said.

There wasn’t a specific timeline given to when the SOS would be required to provide the board with this information.