Michigan’s recount law is more restrictive than most states, which would typically recount precincts with minor discrepancies if they appeared to be caused by poll worker error, experts said today. Michigan’s law, which dates to 1954, excludes from recount precincts where “the number of ballots to be recounted and the number of ballots issued on election day as shown on the poll list or the computer printout do not match and the difference is not explained to the satisfaction of the board of canvassers.” In those cases, the vote total approved by the November canvass stands. In Oakland County, which is slightly ahead of the other counties because it began its recount Monday, officials said at least 17 precincts can’t be recounted because of a discrepancy in the numbers. In Macomb, where the recount got underway Tuesday, there were at least seven. In some cases, the discrepancy was only one ballot. In other cases, it was as high as 11.
In Wayne County, which also began its recount Tuesday, officials acknowledged that the November canvass showed as many as 610 precincts, including 392 in Detroit, had differences between the number of voters in the poll book and the number of ballots in the ballot box. Wayne County hasn’t ruled yet on whether the discrepancies can be explained well enough to make those precincts eligible for recount.
That provision in the law has become an issue in the statewide recount of the 2016 presidential election in Michigan. “I was very surprised to read that provision,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy program at the Brennan Center at New York University.
Norden said he understands the likely rationale behind the law. “You wouldn’t want someone to be able to, after the fact, stuff the ballot box and have that counted,” Norden said. “But it seems like to have such a strict rule is a bad idea because it potentially incentivizes someone who doesn’t want a recount.”
Norden said a rogue poll worker could simply add one name to the poll book at the end of the evening to ensure the precinct couldn’t be recounted.