Cities across Michigan will be breaking in new voting equipment for Tuesday's primary, following the discovery of irregularities during last year's presidential election recount and as a commission appointed by the president looks into questions of voter integrity across the country.
Detroit, which experienced numerous problems during the November 2016 election, will be the biggest of the 60 cities that will switch to the new voting machines next week. Some 45 counties will have the equipment on board by the November election. All municipalities in the state will be hooked up by the August 2018 primary election.
“We knew it was time to get new equipment,” Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said during a demonstration Wednesday of the new equipment in Rochester Hills. “Our equipment was at least 10 years old and nearing the end of its life. Elections are too important to rely on old voting machines.”
The state had $30 million in federal dollars available, which was left over from the Help America Vote Act funds that paid for the current generation of voting systems. The state Legislature added $10 million to the budget to pay for the rest of the new system. Local communities won’t have to pony up any money for the new machines, but they will have to pay for maintenance on the new system after the first five years of use.
Several problems with Michigan’s voting system were discovered after the November 2016 elections and the subsequent recount of the presidential race that was requested by Green Party candidate Jill Stein. In Detroit, a state audit showed that more than half of the precincts couldn’t be recounted for a variety of reasons, ranging from the number of ballots not equaling the number of voters who showed up at the polls, improperly sealed ballot boxes and poll books that couldn’t be balanced.
While there was some voting machine failure in Detroit, the Secretary of State said most of the problems were due to human error. New machines won’t help that, but the city and its precinct workers have been going through additional training since the audit was released in February.
“They’ve made a lot of changes. We have high hopes for them,” said Sally Williams, the state’s newly appointed elections director.
And while President Donald Trump has questioned the integrity of the vote in states, Johnson said the new system still is not connected to the Internet, and a paper trail remains because paper ballots still will be used. The state has not yet turned over voter information to the commission Trump appointed to look into voting in the nation.
Williams said the state is reviewing a second request received from Trump's election commission last week and will turn over publicly available information, which does not include party preference of voters, because voters in Michigan don’t register a party affiliation. The state also won't turn over the last four digits of voters’ Social Security number.
“These machines have gone through extensive testing at the federal and state levels,” Williams said. “And there is additional security all through the process.”
The new optical-scan system will no longer need to use more expensive card stock ballots and can use more lightweight paper. And while the new system is quicker in tabulating results, it won’t get rid of long lines because voters can still take as long as they want in the voting booth.
In addition, the new system has the ability to print additional ballots at the voting precincts, alleviating what has been a frequent problem at heavily trafficked precincts running out of ballots on election day.
Some of the other larger cities using the new machines in Tuesday’s primary election are Pontiac, Bay City, Port Huron, Lansing, Jackson and Muskegon.
Voters can go to www.michigan.gov/vote to see if their community has an election on Tuesday and what’s on the ballot.