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Antrim County clerk rejects county commissioners decision to count ballots by hand

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Antrim County Clerk Sheryl Guy said in a statement Monday that ballots in the county’s local elections next month will be counted electronically, despite a vote by the county board of commissioners that would have required them to be counted by hand.Guy said state law requires the ballots to be counted by machine, and the board of commissioners has no power to mandate hand-counting

“The County Board of Commissioners does not have the authority to determine which voting system to use in Antrim County,” Guy said.

The dispute arose after Guy did not update some voting machines before the election, leading some ballots for Donald Trump to be incorrectly counted for Joe Biden. Before the election results were certified, Guy said, observers recognized the error and assigned the ballots to the correct candidates.

Last month, in what one commissioner said was an effort to avoid a repeat of the same situation, the county board of commissioners voted to require ballots in an upcoming May election to be counted by hand.

Guy, who said at the time she was “sitting here holding my head in my hands” trying to figure out what to do, now says the county’s ballots will be counted electronically, regardless of the board of commissioners decision.

“I, in consultation with township clerks, have the authority to decide which electronic voting system can be used in Antrim County,” she said in her statement. “I cannot legally hold the May 2021 election with paper ballots counted by hand.”

Guy has backup from the Michigan Bureau of Elections, whose director, Jonathan Brater, told Guy in a letter that, “decades ago, the Michigan State Legislature enacted provisions of the Michigan Election Law that expressly require that ballots be counted by a certified electronic system.”

Brater said the commissioners’ decision to require hand counting “may stem from misplaced reliance on ongoing misinformation—which has been repeatedly, comprehensively, and definitively debunked.”

Antrim County Board of Commissioners Chair Terry VanAlstine, who voted for the hand count, said he could not talk about fraud or misinformation -- “I don’t know what that’s about,” he said -- but he said the board would follow the state’s instructions.

“We wanted to do a hand count. We sent a letter to the state. The state said you can’t do that,” said VanAlstine. “We have to do what the state says, obviously, because they’re in charge of the election.”

But there still will be paper ballots in the election.

“Even when using an electronic voting system, a paper ballot is used,” said Guy. “The paper ballot is then fed into a tabulator to record the vote instead of being hand counted.”

After the initial electronic counting, “The county board can request a hand recount of any or all votes cast,” she said.

Brett has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and before Michigan Radio, he was an intern at WNYC and with Ian Urbina of the New York Times and worked at WXXI and WCMU. He also produced freelance reporting work focused on health and science in New York City. Brett grew up in Bremerton, Washington, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.