THE BROKEN SEAL on the ballot box is shown in the left photo. An unbroken seal should look like the right photo.

(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)

   The Shiawassee County Board of Canvassers met in Vernon Township on Wednesday, Sept. 2 to proceed with a public recount of votes cast for the $28,000,000 Durand Area Schools (DAS) ballot/bond proposal in the Aug. 4 primary election. A petition was submitted to the Shiawassee County Clerk’s office on Monday, Aug. 17, requesting a recount from Vernon Township Precinct 2. The request came from Gaines Township resident Axel Bowden. The three canvassers present for the recount included Lenore McMaster (R), Beverly VandenBerg (R) and Ann Arwin (D).

   The public recount took place at Vernon Township Precinct 1 on S. Durand Road. Others in attendance included Shiawassee County Clerk Caroline Wilson and Abigail Bowen, from the clerk’s office. DAS Superintendent Craig McCrumb and the school’s attorney, Fredric Heidemann (Thrun Law Firm), were also on site, along with a few other residents and/or election clerk representatives. Vernon Township Clerk Charlotte Clarke was in the building, too.

   The petition cited possible errors that may have allowed voters from outside of the school district to vote for the bond proposal – calling for a recount. Clarke admitted to one phone call from an out-of-area resident on his/her absentee ballot, identifying this person had the wrong ballot. She believes it was human error, as it is only herself and her deputy that had the responsibility of mailing out over 700 absentee ballots.

   The $28,000,000 school ballot/bond proposal had passed by only two votes – an unusually narrow margin.

   Wilson, supported by Bowen, from the county clerk’s office, stated her office had received three, possibly more, phone calls from concerned residents over the ballot.

   The recount was to include both in-person and absentee ballots, which were in separate ballot boxes. The recount began shortly after 10:30 a.m., starting with the absentee ballots, which were in a legally sealed ballot box. The group adjourned for approximately an hour directly following the absentee ballot recount, regrouping after a lunch period. It was then the board of canvassers discovered the seal on the in-person ballot box was broken. Under state law, a ballot box with a broken seal cannot be recounted. It is not known how or when the seal was broken. The ballot boxes were transported from Precinct 2 to Precinct 1 for the recount.

   The seal on this ballot box was made of a durable plastic, similar in appearance to zip-tie handcuffs. The county uses both plastic and metallic seals on ballot boxes. Wilson always includes how to use the seals correctly during election worker training sessions. Nobody at the recount had ever seen a broken seal on a ballot box. The broken seal was both bent and severed – and had been re-tied. The seal still looped through the eyelet of the zipper on the box, keeping the box closed.

   After the broken seal discovery, the board of canvassers decided to submit a report to the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office, Genesee County Chief Circuit Court Judge, Shiawassee County Prosecutor’s Office, Shiawassee County Chief Circuit Court Judge, Michigan Attorney General, Ingham County Chief Circuit Court Judge and the Michigan Secretary of State Elections Bureau.

   Because the Durand Area School district includes Shiawassee and Genesee County students, Genesee County needed to be included in the report.

   “Per the Shiawassee County Board of Canvassers’ investigation, the recount could not be completed as the seal on the Precinct Ballot Box for Precinct #2 was broken and proper recount could not be conducted,” the report stated. “While the Shiawassee County Board of Canvassers does not believe there was fraud, wrongdoing or a violation of the law, it is believed that a human error was made.” The report cites two situations: mailing Durand Area School district ballots to Corunna Public School district voters and the broken seal.

   “Having determined that the ballots of Precinct #2 are not eligible for recount under MCL 168.871, the original return of the votes for Precinct #2 shall be taken as correct. While the Shiawassee County Board of Canvassers were unable to complete the recount, it would like the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office and Genesee County Chief Circuit Court Judge or the Michigan Attorney General and Ingham County Chief Circuit Court Judge to review this report and conduct an investigation into this matter in compliance with MCL 168.872.” The report was signed by the board of canvassers to be submitted.

Public Durand Bond Vote Recount Reveals Broken Ballot Box Seal was last modified: September 8th, 2020 by Karen Elford