BELLAIRE — State election officials said they found no fraud during an audit of ballots cast in Antrim County’s presidential election, and that a hand count by volunteer poll workers identified a net gain of 12 votes for President Donald Trump.
“We expect to see small changes like this and the overall result confirms the vote was accurate,” said the state’s Bureau of Elections Director Jonathan Brater. “It confirms that the voting machines worked properly, it vindicates what the county clerk said happened — which was, there was an error in the unofficial reporting but that the machines worked as they should.”
“This is very typical of what we find in a hand count of ballots,” said Lori Bourbonais, of the state’s Bureau of Elections. “It is normal to find one or two votes in a precinct, it’s the difference between a hand tally and the machine count. What we saw today was very typical.”
The county used 16 precinct tabulators in the Nov. 3 election, said Clerk Sheryl Guy, a Republican who previously acknowledged errors in software updating by her staff, that led to about 2,000 votes for Trump being mistakenly tallied for Biden.
“The numbers proved that the tabulators worked, the Dominion voting machines — they work,” Guy said, following the announcement of the audit results Thursday afternoon. “The numbers are good, there’s no reason to have doubts about fraud because there wasn’t any.”
The recount and audit was held by a team from the state’s Bureau of Elections inside the Kearny Township Hall, where teams of volunteer poll auditors sat at tables, masked and behind clear vinyl barriers, counting paper ballots in groups of ten ballots at a time.
Two of those pole auditors were Dale and Dorothy Eschenburg, of Alden, who counted the ballots from Torch Lake and Warner townships.
At the start of the day, prior to receiving any ballots to count, Dale Eschenberg, a mechanical engineer, said he had concerns about initial errors in the vote count. He’d shared those concerns with Guy, who invited the Eschenbergs to be poll auditors.
They both agreed to serve, though both said they had not worked on an election previously.
“We’ve had concerns about why the errors occurred and in my view, it’s too coincidental that all of the errors have gone in favor of Democrats,” Dale Eschenberg said, before beginning the count process.
“If there were 68 percent errors, as the security report said, the recount will show that,” he added. “The ballots will either agree with the results, or agree with the report. It’s one way or the other.”
Eschenberg was referencing a recent report generated by Texas-based cyber security consultants on behalf of local realtor Bill Bailey, following a lawsuit accusing the county of voter fraud and of violating Bailey’s constitutional rights.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson filed a motion to intervene and was added to the suit Dec. 14 as a named defendant.
The forensic review of the county’s precinct tabulators occurred Dec. 6, following a court order signed by 13th Circuit Court Chief Judge Kevin Elsenheimer.
The lawsuit is ongoing and one of those observing Thursday’s hand recount was Bailey’s attorney, Matthew DePerno, of Portage.
Bailey was not in attendance, previously said a press release about the audit was forthcoming and DePerno declined comment beyond stating he wasn’t sure what the recount would show.
Brater, who filed a declaration under oath debunking some of what was stated in the security report from Allied Security Operations Group, Inc., also declined comment on the lawsuit.
The results of the hand recount and the audit were announced about 3:40 p.m. by Bourbonais.
Trump’s original certified vote total in the county was 9,748 votes; the recount found he’d received 9,759 votes.
President-Elect Joe Biden’s original certified vote total was 5,960; the recount found Biden received one less vote, or 5,959.
Third party candidates Jo Jorgenson (Libertarian) picked up a single vote from 189 in the certified count to 190 in the hand recount; Howie Hawkins (Green) stayed the same after the hand count with 28 votes, Don Blankenship (Constitution) picked up a single vote from 16 to 17 and Roque De La Fuente (Alliance) who went from 8 to 9 votes.
Reached at his home after the recount was completed, Dale Eschenberg said he and Dorothy found one miscast Biden vote and no miscast Trump votes.
Eschenberg said he believes Guy was honest about the errors that caused inaccurate initial vote numbers to be reported, but he still has concerns about electronic voting machines.
“In my view, what I can’t take out of my mind, what still bothers me is, how the errors occurred in the first place,” Eschenberg said. “I do want a continued investigation beyond what this state has done so far.”
The state’s Bureau of Elections is conducting a statewide risk-limiting audit, Benson announced, along with procedural audits in some counties.