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BREAKING: Recount in Oakland County Clerk's Race!!

Submitted by Brainwrap on Sat, 11/08/2008 - 11:27

On Wednesday morning, I posted a diary called The Word from Michigan in which I summarized the more noteworthy election results from here in Oakland County and the rest of the wolverine state.

For the most part, we had good news to report--in addition to wins in MI-09 (Gary Peters) and MI-07 (Mark Schauer), we also passed Prop 1 (medical marijuana) and Prop 2 (stem cell research). More amazingly, we were able to take out a sitting state Supreme Court Justice, Cliff Taylor. We even picked up 8 or 9 state house seats, increasing our majority. Hooray for us!

Locally, Oakland County Democrats also had a pretty good night--all six of the county-wide elected positions (Executive, Prosecutor, Sheriff, Treasurer, Clerk, Drain Commissioner) had been held, up until now, by Republicans for a long, long time. That changed on Tuesday, with my own State Representative, Andy Meisner, winning Oakland County Treasurer and former Appeals Court Justice Jessica Cooper winning Oakland County Prosecutor.

HOWEVER...

As you can see if you scroll down on the County website, there were two other county-wide races that were THISCLOSE: County Clerk/Register of Deeds and Drain Commissioner.

Democrat Brett Nicholson is, at the moment, listed as being down about 2,000 votes for Drain Commissioner.

Democrat Sheila W. Smith is, at the moment, listed as being down about 5,600 votes for County Clerk/Register of Deeds.

Now, here's where it gets interesting: As I understand it, at 4:30am EST on election night/next morning, Sheila Smith was only down 2,300 votes overall, with two major cities left to report: Pontiac and Southfield. Anyone who's familiar with Oakland County knows that the demographics for both cities is, shall we say, strongly Democratic. In addition, the popular Democratic Mayor of Southfield, Brenda Lawrence, also happened to be running for County Executive this year against the Republican incumbent.

By the time the remaining precincts were reported, Sheila Smith had supposedly still lost the Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds election by less than 1%...but somehow, the vote difference had *grown* to 5,600.

Update: I've been informed that I may have been misinformed about the exact chronology of the final vote tally. This doesn't change the larger issue of the reliability of the ES&S machines (see below) or the importance of being certain that every vote was accurately recorded, but, if true, it may reduce the cause for suspicion somewhat. My apologies for any errors on this front.

Given the bevy of other THISCLOSE races being reported for other offices nationwide, I'm sure you can guess where I'm going with this...

Check out this story from Wired Magazine from Monday, Nov. 3rd, the night before Election Day:

ES&S Voting Machines in Michigan Flunk Tests, Don't Tally Votes Consistently

Optical-scan machines made by Election Systems & Software failed recent pre-election tests in a Michigan county, producing different tallies for the same ballots every time, the top election official in Oakland County revealed in a letter made public Monday.

The problems occurred during logic and accuracy tests in the run-up to this year's general election, Oakland County Clerk Ruth Johnson disclosed in a letter submitted October 24 (.pdf) to the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The machines at issue are ES&S M-100 optical-scan machines, which read and tally election results from paper ballots.
Johnson worried that such problems -- linked tentatively to paper dust build-up in the machines -- could affect the integrity of the general election this week.

"The same ballots, run through the same machines, yielded different results each time," she wrote. "This begs the question -- on Election Day, will the record number of ballots going through the remaining tabulators leave even more build-up on the sensors, affecting machines that tested just fine initially? Could this additional build-up on voting tabulators that have not had any preventative maintenance skew vote totals? My understanding is that the problem could occur and election workers would have no inkling that ballots are being misread."...

Johnson, who could not be reached for comment, said that "four of our communities or eight percent" had reported inconsistent vote totals during the logic and accuracy tests with the ES&S machines.

Yep, that would be the same Ruth Johnson who happened to be Sheila Smith's incumbent opponent for this race. The same Ruth Johnson who also ran as Dick DeVos's running mate during the 2006 gubernatorial race against Jennifer Granholm while simultaneously serving as...Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds.

And she said, in a letter written just 2 weeks before the general election, that as many as EIGHT PERCENT of the vote tallies may have problems. With around 660,000 total votes cast county-wide, that means that the Republican County Clerk is openly admitting that as many as 53,000 votes in her own re-election race could be in question.

So, what's the upshot of this revelation?

Here's today's Michigan Messenger:

Democrat wants recount of Oakland clerk race

The tight race for election administrator in Oakland County may yield an audit of vote-counting machines that worried the current clerk.

Sheila Smith, the Democratic candidate for county clerk, told Michigan Messenger that she will ask for a recount in her apparently unsuccessful race against incumbent Republican Ruth Johnson.

I realize that 5,600 out of around 660,000 seems like a lot to overcome, but that's not the point: The point, for Sheila, is the same as it should be for all of us: To make as certain as possible that every vote is counted accurately.

Maybe it'll amount to nothing. Maybe a recount would end up increasing Johnson's lead. Who the hell knows? What I do know is that things just got very interesting again here in Oakland County, Michigan...

Please visit Sheila's website to see how you can assist. A full recount would, according to the Michigan Messenger article, cost Sheila around $6,500 (she gets reimbursed if the results end up tipping the election in her favor; if that happens, she'd be happy to return donations if feasible). I have no idea whether she can use official campaign contributions for this purpose or not, but will update this diary as soon as I find out. If she can do so, any contributions you could give would be greatly appreciated--hell, 260 of us at $25 apiece would do the trick.

More to come...

Disclosure: I did some general for-pay updates for Sheila's campaign website; however, I am not an official representative of hers or her campaign, I was an independent vendor. I'm posting this as a friend of hers, not as an employee.