Audit: Election bureau does sufficient job, training lags

Mar 4, 2022, 6:02 PM | Updated: 6:55 pm
FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2020, file photo, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson speaks in Det...

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2020, file photo, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson speaks in Detroit. Election officials preparing for this year’s midterms have yet another security concern to add to an already long list – threats from within. In a handful of states, local officials are suspected of directing or aiding security breaches at their own election offices. In Michigan, Benson said her office is “keeping a close eye — closer than ever before” on local election officials and is prepared to stop anyone who is jeopardizing election security. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s elections bureau did a sufficient job overall in maintaining the integrity of the voter database, conducting post-election audits and training local clerks — with some exceptions — state auditors said Friday while recommending improvements.

Their report covers 2019, 2020 and 2021 elections, including the race former President Donald Trump has falsely claimed was fraudulent. It found that 99.99% of votes were not duplicates and were made by age-eligible voters.

Just 2,775 votes, or 0.002% of millions cast across eight elections, were from people who died by Election Day. Almost all of them, 99.6%, had submitted absentee ballots, which is allowable in the 40 days before an election. Some 6,087 votes over 10 elections were rejected because the voters were deceased as of Election Day.

The auditor general reported three less serious findings and one more serious “material” condition — that the bureau did not ensure that county clerks and their staff received post-election audit training and were appropriately certified to conduct audits. Slightly more than half of clerks, 43, did not view webinars and videos; eight of them were not fully accredited when they did audits.

Auditors recommended that the state require direct instruction, do competency assessments and verify completion. The Department of State agreed with the guidance and said a training module has been replaced with a certification course.

The audit suggested legislation may be needed to better prevent the counting of votes submitted by voters who die by Election Day and to extend the canvassing period so audits can be done before, not after, results are certified. It also recommended improving security controls for electronic pollbook software and said the bureau can do a better job to ensure that county clerks complete and submit post-election audits.

Auditors noted some clerks did not hand count the statewide race chosen by the state, choosing a different race or not doing any hand counting.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said the audit confirmed the effectiveness of post-election audits.

“The performance of Michigan’s clerks in the 2020 election and the months that followed was outstanding, especially when we take into consideration the national, coordinated and shameful effort to overturn the legitimate outcome of the election and undermine the clerks themselves,” she said in a statement.

State Rep. Matt Hall, a Marshall Republican, said the audit shows “we must shore up our laws to make sure dead people are not voting in our elections,” adding it is “absolutely unacceptable” that some hand counts were not done during audits.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last year vetoed a bill that would have changed the administrative process for removing dead people from voter lists and required more frequent checks during the 45-day period before an election. She said she would sign legislation allowing county clerks to flag dead voters in the 15 days before an election, when she said Social Security records might be insufficient to update voter records in a timely fashion.

Republicans criticized Benson for the bureau not always checking the driver’s license file to cancel the registrations of dead voters. The audit, however, noted that the process was delayed when the state upgraded the data system in late 2020 and early 2021, not impacting any election.

“The latest audit of her department’s shortcomings only affirms the importance of our legislative efforts to strengthen election integrity,” Republican state Rep. Julie Alexander, of Hanover, said of Benson.

But Democrats said the audit found that elections are well-run and secure. While improvements are needed, they said, there is no basis for GOP efforts they said would restrict voting.

The nonpartisan review “should serve as a guidepost to those looking to improve our election practices, not debunked conspiracies predicated on the big lie,” said state Rep. Matt Koleszar of Plymouth, the top-ranking Democrat on the Republican-controlled House Elections and Ethics Committee.


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Audit: Election bureau does sufficient job, training lags