TRAVERSE CITY — Ensuring that voting went off without a hitch in each county comes down to a four-person board of canvassers.
They’re a county-appointed board that meets to ensure the election was conducted in accordance with the law, and check that all the various procedures were followed and documented, city Clerk Benjamin Marentette said. Elected officials can’t serve, and it must include both Republican and Democratic representation.
“So it’s another set of eyes to make sure any discrepancies are accounted for and if they aren’t, to drill into that and to find out why,” he said.
Marentette and Grand Traverse County Clerk Bonnie Scheele, both elections experts with years of experience, described the process further detailed by state manuals for elections inspectors and boards of canvassers. Together, they show a process designed to ensure an accurate, secure vote.
Poll workers duplicate absentee ballots the tabulating scanners can’t read, Marentette said. They can help those who vote in person fix any issues on the spot.
Examples include overvotes, where someone marked two choices for a race only allowing one.
Two election inspectors, each from different political parties, make a duplicate by labeling the original and transferring its choices to a blank ballot that’s marked and numbered as a duplicate, according to the manual.
Marentette said they’ll work to clearly determine a voter’s intent using a set of standards — someone may have filled two ovals for a section requiring one choice but wrote “yes” next to one and “no” next to another, say.
Other times, military and overseas votes arrive on different ballots the machines can’t read, so they’re copied using the same process, Scheele said.
The duplicates are fed into the tabulators, and the originals are placed in an envelope and sealed away with the rest of the ballots, according to the manual.
Inspectors must take notes for each duplicate they make, Marentette said — Scheele’s training materials for precinct workers instructs them to err on the side of too much information.
The board of canvassers goes over those notes and can bring in election inspectors to explain them if needed, Marentette said.
CHECKING BALLOT COUNTS
The board also checks again to ensure the number of ballots counted matches the number of voters in the poll book, Marentette said. That includes both the list of in-person voters and those who casted absentee ballots.
Electronic poll books allow precinct workers to process voters at a polling location on election day, and include up-to-date voter registrations and absent voter information, elections manuals show.
Scheele said poll workers have to check these counts at the end of election day, and a receiving board checks again.
Canvassers will scrutinize any mismatches to determine why, Marentette said.
One Traverse City precinct didn’t match because a voter who requested an absentee ballot later showed up to the polls, Marentette said. Elections workers were notified by the poll book software that the voter already had a ballot, and the process calls for them to notify the clerk’s office so the absentee ballot can be canceled if the voter wants to vote in person.
The voter’s absentee ballot was already returned, which the clerk’s office employee inadvertently didn’t notice, Marentette said. That means the voter voted twice, and there’s no way to remove the second ballot’s choices from the tallies as the ballot is no longer identifiable — their numbered stubs are removed before they’re counted to ensure an anonymous vote.
Such mistakes are extremely rare, and the board of canvassers was informed of this one, Marentette said.
Poll workers also have to print out a set of tapes from each tabulator at the start of election day to show all tallies have been zeroed out and at the end to show the totals, Scheele said.
They’ll make three copies, one to the county clerk, one to the local elections clerk and one to the board of canvassers, Scheele said.
A precinct’s chairperson and inspectors sign the tapes and attach them to a statement of votes, manuals show. Those statements include the number of the seal used to secure the ballot container, and a seal certification signed by two inspectors from different political parties.
The board of canvassers must inspect each container every other year, Scheele said.
“They do this months ago, they’re checking to make sure that if you put a seal on, you’re not going to be able to compromise that ballot container and slip a ballot in there,” Scheele said.
The ballots stay sealed unless the board of canvassers needs to retabulate them — say, to ensure the number of physical ballots match the number of applications to vote, Scheele said. The board of canvassers oversees this process.
Vote statements also include the number of write-ins for declared candidates, manuals show.
They also include the seal serial number used to secure the tabulator program card, Marentette said.
Copies of the statement of votes go to the county clerk, local clerks and board of canvassers, each in a sealed envelope, Scheele said. County clerks also get the poll book and local clerks get several types of documents, including the applications to vote and address change forms.
DOWN TO DETAILS
The board of canvassers checks that everyone signed the required documents, and that poll workers who started the day and signed paperwork then — certifying that ballots arrived in sealed containers, for example — also signed all the end-of-day paperwork, Marentette said. A possible exception could be a poll worker doing a partial shift, which Marentette doesn’t allow.
Some townships do, Scheele said. They’d sign in at the start and make a remark in the poll book when they leave, then their replacement would be sworn in, which would also be noted.
Final steps for canvassing include breaking the rare tie for candidates and certifying and releasing results, manuals show.
The canvassing process, which wrapped Thursday, is open to the public and some observers from political parties and civic groups watched this year, Scheele said.
“It’s an open meeting and I think people watching realize there is a lot of work and they’re very serious about the job and making sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, so it was good to have observers,” she said.
Marentette said he anticipated the board’s final report early next week.
Post-election audits take an even deeper dive, where an outside agency checks hand-count tallies against tabulator results in randomly selected jurisdictions, precincts and races, Marentette said. They’ll also look at elections official procedures, even beyond what the board of canvassers reviews.