Jill Stein's unsuccessful effort to force a recount of Michigan's presidential election did reveal a serious problem in many precincts: a discrepancy between the number of voters who checked in and the number of ballots. The problem was greatest in Wayne County, where Detroit is located, but also occurred in other counties.
Voting machines in more than one-third of all Detroit precincts registered more votes than they should have during last month’s presidential election, according to Wayne County records prepared at the request of The Detroit News.
Detailed reports from the office of Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett show optical scanners at 248 of the city’s 662 precincts, or 37 percent, tabulated more ballots than the number of voters tallied by workers in the poll books. Voting irregularities in Detroit have spurred plans for an audit by Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office, Elections Director Chris Thomas said Monday. . . .
Overall, state records show 10.6 percent of the precincts in the 22 counties that began the retabulation process couldn’t be recounted because of state law that bars recounts for unbalanced precincts or ones with broken seals.
The problems were the worst in Detroit, where discrepancies meant officials couldn’t recount votes in 392 precincts, or nearly 60 percent. And two-thirds of those precincts had too many votes.
The Detroit Free Press concluded that the discrepancies were likely due to human or machine error, not fraud:
In 248 precincts, there were a total of 782 more votes tabulated by voting machines than the number of voters listed as picking up ballots in the precincts’ poll books. That makes up just three-tenths of 1% of the total 248,211 votes that were logged in Detroit for the presidential election. That number was far too small to swing the statewide election results, even in this year’s especially tight race that saw a Republican win Michigan for the first time since George Bush in 1988. . . .
The Free Press analysis found there were 248 precincts in Detroit where voting machines tabulated more Election Day votes than people who were counted as checking in to vote. The affected precincts represent 37% of the city's 662 precincts.
Most of those overages were by small amounts — on average about 3 votes — with the largest being 12 votes in a single precinct. Those small numbers, which add up to 782 total spread out across more than 200 precincts, tend to point to human or machine malfunction as the culprit, rather than widespread fraud.
In 158 precincts, the number of ballots tabulated by the optical-scanning voting machines was inexplicably less than the number of people who signed in to vote. At least 362 ballots were not counted in those precincts, even though the voters had been listed in poll books.
Whether due to fraud or human/machine error, these discrepancies show that Michigan has a serious problem of election administration that it needs to address, whether through better procedures, better training, better equipment, or all of the above. To their credit, Michigan's Secretary of State and local election officials are taking these problems seriously and seeking to identify the sources of the discrepancies and address them.