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Tour of Michigan Recount 2016

Citizens Oversight (2016-12-09) Ray Lutz

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In December 2016, a historic state-wide recount was started regarding the presidential race in the November 8, 2016 general election. This recount was petitioned by presidential candidate Jill Stein and the green party, and I was told they paid $125 per precinct. This recount was in conjunction with recount attempts in WI and PA. The Trump campaign fought against the recount.

Legal Documents / FAQS / Announcements etc.

My Trip

I flew from San Diego on Sunday, Dec 4 to Detroit / Wayne County Airport (DTW) arriving in Detroit at about 4:30pm. I rented a car and stayed near downtown on the first night.

Monday, Dec 5, 2016

Wayne County

The recount was authorized but the (Republican) Secretary of State wanted to wait two days after the approval for preparation. A court order was issued to start the recount immediately. So on Monday, I went downtown to look for any activities related to the recount. After visiting the Wayne County election office (County Clerk) I was directed to the COBO convention center, and I used the People Mover to go over there. There was not much going on but I did create a livestream video of my visit. I learned that they would start counting on Tuesday at noon.

Oakland County

After learning of the complete schedule of recount sites online, I drove north to Oakland County as they had started their recount as of noon on Monday.

Oakland County is the northern suburbs of Detroit. These are the predominantly white and middle or upper middle class neighborhoods. The recount was being held in the beautiful school district headquarters building. Almost everyone at the recount was white, representative of the area.

I stood by a table and watched the count for about an hour. At this particular table there were two election workers who were employed by the county sitting on one side and a woman who was a volunteer with the Clinton campaign and a man from the Trump campaign seated at the other end.

The two workers had just finished counting the number of ballots in the precinct, total of 634, placing them in stacks of 25 each an offsetting them in each set.

They worked down a checklist. They had already checked off that the ballot box was sealed and that the seal number matched the number written on the pollbook paperwork. They compared their count with the number on the pollbook and it matched. So they raised their red "Assistance Needed" card and an official came over.

They announced that the precinct was "countable" and gave the approval that they could proceed with the count. I did not know the significance of this until later, but about 10.5% of the precincts were deemed uncountable in general, comprising nearly 500K ballots if the full recount was completed, and if proportions remained the same.

The workers proceeded to count the ballots. They way they did it at first was to place the main source pile in the middle and then create two sorted piles, one for Trump and Clinton on each side of the main pile, and a couple of other smaller piles for other candidates and one for "other." Then the main worker picked up a ballot from the main pile, inspected the ballot, called out the vote, and put it into the respective pile. There were also piles for Stein and Johnson, as well as a pile for Others, undervotes, etc. but these were rarely used. The main workers would look at the ballot, announce "Trump" or "Clinton" for example, or "Republican", "Democrat", etc if the voter had not indicated a presidential selection and instead voted the straight-party selection.

The rule is as follows: If a person votes for a specific candidate, then that will dominate. If no vote exists for any specific candidate, then the straight-party vote is considered.

There was only one ballot that was questioned, and came up with a different vote than the machine. In this case, the bubble for Trump was completely filled in solid like the other votes on the ballot, but there was a single dot in the Clinton bubble. So the machine counted this as an over vote. So +1 vote for Trump and -1 overvote. There were only two Stein votes, about 15 Johnson votes.

On my way out, I talked with the two workers who were at the table I mostly watched and they said it was actually pretty hard to do the counting. Surprisingly, one comment was that they would have a very hard time in Flint doing the counting because they were not too intelligent up there. (!)

Macomb County

I stayed a bit north of Detroit in Warner area. This is Macomb County. They say Mah-Cohm not May Cum. So I had to learn that. This recount was held in the community college gym, a massive building which was only about 1/2 used. They had metal dividers put up so it was difficult to actually go in and mingle with the workers. I got there in time to listen to most of the instructions given to the workers. This is when the big issue jumped out at me. The idea that if a tag is wrong, or the count of ballots does not match the number written on a sheet, then they do not count them at all.

The set up the tables with a wide space between them and interestingly, put the chairs for observers BEHIND the workers, making it really impossible to watch what they were doing, instead of placing them on the other side of the tables.

Participant observers needed to declare what party they are with. As a nonpartisan observer, I was not allowed into the secured area. Other observers had nametags with their name and party affiliation usually in the form of a color sticker, red for Republicans, Blue for Dems, Green for Greens, etc. I noticed one guy wearing a Trump T-shirt and a woman with a red Make America Great Again hat on. They said partisan displays are fine at this point. I raised my eyebrows.

Later they let us know that one precinct had been considered "uncountable" with 1055 ballots. As they had about 33 tables and that is about 10% of the number of precincts, during the first pass, all tables attempted to do a precinct and they had one uncountable, so I estimated at that time that perhaps 10% of the precincts would be uncountable. It turns out that was a pretty good estimate since the actual number in the precincts they did count was 10.54%. So I can give myself a gold star for that first estimate.

I talked with Bill Laitner of the Detroit Free Press and let him know of my serious concerns about these uncountable precincts. I think they took the ball and ran with it as his associate then published an article about that issue, pointing out that the Detroit city area had about 50% uncountable. We talked by phone several times. Detroit Free Press was very active on the topic.

I took some pictures and shot a livestream video in Macomb County, then departed for Detroit at about 1:30pm

Wayne County

I drove down to COBO hall in Detroit, parked on the Roof of COBO hall. It was raining and about 34 degrees. I had forgotten my umbrella so I had to deal with a little rain. No biggie.

Wayne County had two big rooms, one with 11 rows by 5 tables, or 55 tables, and the other had 35 for a total of 90. But they were not all used all the time.

I sat by one table for an extended period of time and watched in amazement.

This table had two workers, both black, and two white observers, a man from Clinton campaign and a woman from the Trump campaign. I have some video of this table and that might help knowing who is who. The racial diversity was much more extensive in Detroit than in the other counties.

I didn't see every step of the process at this table, but in talking with them, I pieced together the scenario.

This was Absentee Precinct 14. By the way, almost all precincts counted in Detroit prior to the shutdown were Absentee voters. In MI, you have to have an excuse. You can't be a permanent absentee voter like you can in many other areas.

On the poll book of this precinct were about 5 different numbers for how many ballots were in the box. The other hard part about these ballots was the fact that they would take a stack and roll them up, rather than keep them flat. Thus, when they pulled them apart, the ballots would spring into a non-flat curved shape. If one or more ballots were put in the opposite orientation in the bundle, then once you reorient them, you have curved spring-loaded ballots that were hard to handle. No one much thinks about this but I really think it is a big factor in making it hard to process them.

So they went through the count the first time, got one of the numbers on the form, said they matched, and then proceeded to sort the ballots according to candidate. The recommended process for counting and sorting is to have two people touch each ballot, not have people separately sort, according to their procedure. As I said, counting is very hard, esp. with spring loaded ballots.

Unlike Oakland County, these ballots are not the bubble type but are the line-completion type. But the result is about the same.

After they sorted the ballots by candidate, they noticed that the total number, if you add up those votes did not equal the number of ballots they initially counted. In the sorted mode, Clinton had +4 votes from what was on the pollbook. So they decided to question the initial count, and they then recounted them three times, getting three different numbers. The two women who were doing the counting did not do it in the recommended fashion, and they were being badgered by the Trump woman. In the end, they gave up, deemed the precinct uncountable, and threw it all back in the metal precinct box in desperation. I caught this phase on the video I made as a live-stream.

I spent quite a bit more time watching in COBO hall. In general, it was very disorganized and poorly run. Other counties had one or more projectors showing the current status of the recount.

Wayne County had nothing of the sort, and when we came by later, after they pulled the plug, it seemed that workers were still in the room fixing up numbers. No one was watching that part of the process and they did not let us in the room, but why not?

Wed Dec 7

Genesee County (Flint Area)

I decided to make the rounds to a few other counties the next day, so I drove first to Genesee County. The most prominent city is Flint in that County. They had put off counting until Wednesday for some reason, so they really only got one day of counting in before they pulled the plug.

Genesee recounting was performed in the basement of the administration building. I could not livestream from the basement due to no reception. They had I think 33 tables and it was very hot and crowded. They had just started the recount. As in all the counties I witnessed, they counted by hand and did not use any scanners or other equipment, in contrast with other states like Wisconsin.

I got there a little later than I had hoped so I did not listen to the instructions they gave the workers. It did not spend a great deal of time there as they had not made much progress. They had no uncountable precincts yet.

Ingham County (Lansing Area)

I drove to Lansing, the state capitol. I was told that maybe there would be a press conference but nothing happened. Then, drove down to Mason County Fairgrounds. When I got there, I found "recount" signs but no cars. The guy in the store said no one was there that day. Later, I learned they had already finished their recount. Nothign to see so I drove to Washtenaw County.

Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor Area)

Now I was starting to see the general trend, namely that Michigan does a few things right, such as hand-counting paper ballots in their recount, but all had the same big "non-recountable" issue.

Composed a letter and press release to elections officials and media:

Washtenaw county had a very tight floor plan, and had a full 4 observers per table, making six people on every table. I took some video and snapshots of this situation. One thing they did especially well was they had three screens and projectors showing the current status of the recount.

After confirming they were operating the same way, I left and drove back to the Detroit area.

That evening, we got the word that the recount had been halted.

Thursday, Dec 8

Back to Detroit, Recount Halted.

Documentarian Scott Spinucci was coming into town for the recount. Unfortunately, he was a tiny bit late, but I picked him up at the airport and we both went back to COBO hall to see what was going on. We were chased out of the room by a woman (African/American) who said we could not take pictures or video record because she was worried about her hair. Sounds like a coverup to me, as we noticed they were fiddling with paperwork and ballots when we looked in. Workers with carts rolled a half-dozen metal ballot boxes each from one room to the other.

We also met Journalist Sabah from Sabah Communications, who is a Detroit-area (Dearborn) resident with roots in Lebanon. We all took a liking to each other and had a good time shooting some video and attempted to find out what was going on in the room.

We had lunch near COBO Hall. It was very cold, windy, and blowing snow. Got hotel rooms near where Sabah lives and went to bed early for me. I was very tired.

Friday, Dec 9

Went back to COBO hall in the morning and shot some interview-style video, esp. of Sabah since she was in the room in Detroit and had many observations. She also took a wealth of photos of what was going on, attached to this topic. Scott shot some interviews about it, then we dropped him off. After dropping him off, I got a hotel room sort of near the airport.

Saturday Dec 10

Learned today that Jill Stein was to have a press conference and rally outside COBO hall.

I worked at Bob's Big Boy next to my motel room and discovered the very interesting fact that in the actual official results of the recount up to the time it was shut down, Hillary Clinton was the winner by about 3.75% or 74,000 votes, after 35% of the precincts were actually counted (comprising 43% of the ballots).

It was very cold and difficult to stand outside for this, but it worked out well.

They refused to let me have any speaking time so I decided to just start talking without their microphone (which was crappy anyway) about the issue I had discovered... that the numbers from the MI SOS office shows that Clinton was in the lead in the ballots processed in the recount and actually hand-recounted.


  • FB Live Video of the end of the Stein presser after I dropped by phone and the battery popped out.

Later that night, I produced a live-stream update of the week in Michigan.

Outstanding Questions:

  1. Of the "unrecountable" precincts, what is the computer result in those precincts? Is it remarkably tilted toward Trump?
  2. Which counties had the highest % uncountables and what is their demographics/party affiliation?
  3. Most of the counting in Wayne County (Detroit) was of absentee voters. How do the absentee voters compare with others?
  4. Downtown Detroit had nearly 50% uncountables. Would like to see the breakdown as suggested in item 1.
  5. Bottom line: How can we explain that Clinton is currently ahead by 74K votes (3.75%) in the hand-recounted precincts? Is fraud the only answer?

Request for detailed information

The following request was submitted on Dec 12 to SOS office via their web-submission form.



We request the following under the MI Freedom of Information "Public Records" act and provisions under the election code that you be helpful and answer questions, with the knowledge that election information must be saved for 22 months.

1. the precinct-by-precinct breakdown of the recent recount in MI, including notations as to which precincts were deemed "unrecountable" and why. We recommend that you post this on your website.

We previously requested and re-request 2. any and all documents related to the recount that were posted to your website and subsequently deleted. Instead of deleting these and forcing anyone with an interest to request them, we suggest you save taxpayer dollars by maintaining deprecated documents on the website so they can be accessed in some archival area.

Thank you for your kind assistance!

--Ray Lutz


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Title Tour of Michigan Recount 2016
Publisher Citizens Oversight
Author Ray Lutz
Pub Date 2016-12-09
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Topic revision: r7 - 2017-02-13, RaymondLutz

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