WYOMING, Mich. — Election officials are putting the finishing touches on Tuesday’s primary election, including testing the tabulator machines that will count your votes.
Each tabulator is tested individually ahead of every state election, as prescribed by state law. Mock ballots simulate every possible scenario to make sure the machines catch what’s wrong and accept what’s right. The tests confirm the tabulators are identifying the right precinct and candidates, and rejecting incorrect ballots from different precincts, ballots with blanks or stray marks, double votes and spoiled ballots.
In every jurisdiction, tabulators are tested publicly under the Open Records Act – but very few people ever attend.
At a public accountability test at City Hall in Wyoming – one of the county’s largest polling sites – two League of Women Voters volunteers and one interested member of the public attended. At a later test in Spencer Township, only on League of Women Voters volunteer was on hand to watch. It’s all despite record mistrust in elections.
“If people question elections, they ought to educate themselves,” said Audrey Craft, a League of Women Voters volunteer at the Wyoming precinct. “It’s an open process, it’s transparent, there are lots of checks and balances, so get educated if you don’t believe elections are fair.”
“These are subject to Open Meetings Act, and so we in Kent County have always tried to roll out the red carpet and encourage all of our residents, all of our citizens, to come out and check out these processes so they can have confidence in their elections,” said Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus-Lyons. “We’re doing everything we can to be transparent. We’re starting to see a lot more interest, a lot more involvement. We’d love to see more, certainly.”
The tabulators, essentially gigantic calculators, are Dominion Voting machines. The company immediately came under fire after the November 2020 election, when unfounded accusations of fraud were directed at their equipment. The company has since sued over damage to its reputation.
The clerk’s office notes that, contrary to misinformation stemming from the 2020 election, the machines are never connected to the internet.
“Our equipment does not have the ability to wireless communicate with any other device,” said Gerrid Uzarski, the elections director for Kent County. “Our election tabulators are never connected to the internet.”
In Michigan, paper ballots are retained for any discrepancies or recounts. As for the electronic information, that is also retained on three separate thumb drives distributed to the local clerk, the county clerk, and the region’s Chief Probate Judge. Likewise, all results in a county’s system are verified line by line and compared to the result on the paper tapes that are later sealed, and hand delivered to those same parties.
At the end of the testing, the tabulators are zeroed out to make sure they start from scratch on Election Day.
Posthumus-Lyons said while they have had many fruitful conversations with skeptics since 2020, she wishes more people would come to the tests to ease their minds and learn the system.
“Sometimes it can be discouraging to not have that kind of participation that you’d want for people, but those are things that we can’t control,” she said. “What we can control is making sure that our citizens are educated, they’re aware of what’s going on, and they know they have every opportunity to come and observe, to come and be part of it.”
The tests will occur again ahead of the November general election in Michigan.
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