TRAVERSE CITY — State officials sought a closer look at election results and the procedures local election workers followed in the run-up to Nov. 5.
Turns out all went well in Traverse City and at least one other northwestern Michigan precinct the state Bureau of Elections randomly picked for the latest round of post-election audits.
Traverse City Clerk Benjamin Marentette said the state bureau chose the city’s 8th Precinct for an audit. They have to be independently conducted, so the Grand Traverse County Clerk’s office handled it.
County Clerk Bonnie Scheele said there’s a checklist she and her chief deputy go through for each audit.
That includes pre-election notices, verifying elections inspectors were trained, encryption and privacy settings for the electronic pollbook, and whether the voter assist terminal was tested, to name a few items on the two-page list.
“We usually do three audits after a November election, but this was a small election so we only had to do one,” she said.
Scheele said she and her chief deputy clerk also hand-counted the ballots, looking at one race’s results to ensure they matched — Marentette said auditors have to check the results against the results reported on Election Day and those certified by the county board of canvassers.
The hand-count was a relatively easy one, since Scheele was looking at the lone proposal question on the ballot — whether to renew the Brown Bridge Parks Improvement Trust Fund.
Their count found that everything was in order, and the audit turned up no problems or issues needing correcting, Marentette said. That shows that not only was voting equipment functioning properly, but that city election workers followed three months of protocols and procedures prior to Election Day.
“The purpose is to do really a spot check, a deep-dive spot check on the wide array of protocols and steps that are required to make sure things are done properly,” he said.
The state picked a different Traverse City precinct following the 2018 elections, and that audit found no issues as well, Marentette said.
Jake Rollow, Michigan Department of State director of communications, said these performance audits are a way to “replay” the election and make sure local jurisdictions did everything correctly.
“Even if there were things that could be improper, we’re not finding that elections were carried out in a way where they were inaccurate, we’re just finding ways that we could improve our procedures going forward,” he said.
Performance audits are also one of many ways to ensure elections are safe and secure, and that elections clerks’ training is effective, Rollow said.
The Department of State is piloting another kind of check known as risk-limiting audits, Rollow said. Those are much more focused on the vote count, and involve examining a statistically significant sample of ballots cast in a precinct to ensure votes were correctly counted.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson started risk-limiting audits in 2018 as other states adopted the practice, and expanded the program in 2019, according to a release. The goal is to develop a model for local elections, as well as a statewide check of results.
Performance audits aren’t new, but now there’s a heightened interest in light of increased elections scrutiny, Scheele said.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure our elections are secure and accurate, and that is doing audits,” she said, adding the county made security upgrades to its servers and equipment in preparation for the 2020 election.
The state Bureau of Elections also chose Warner Township’s 1st Precinct in Antrim County for a performance audit. Connie Wing, deputy clerk for Antrim County, said it went well and found no issues.