Michigan election board slams recounts as 'frivolous,' allows them to proceed

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers allowed Monday recounts targeting two ballot proposals to go forward despite concerns the efforts amounted to a "fishing expedition" aimed at advancing unproven claims of election fraud.

The canvassing board voted 3-0 after nearly three hours of occasionally heated discussion to set processes for the recounts of 47 precincts' votes on Proposal 2, which allowed nine days of early voting, and of about 500 precincts' votes on Proposal 3, which enshrined abortion rights in the state Constitution.

Both measures passed overwhelmingly in the Nov. 8 election. There is no possibility the recounts, which start Wednesday, will alter the outcome because they are not examining enough votes.

Proposal 2 won with 60% in support and 40% in opposition. The margin was about 861,000 votes. Jonathan Brater, Michigan's elections director, said the recount for Proposal 2 would cover about 38,000 yes votes.

Members of the board of canvassers, including Democrat Mary Ellen Gurewitz, said state law allows for recounts of ballot proposals even in instances when the recounts don't have a chance to alter the result.

"I think that this is, as we have recognized, a total waste of time, money, that this is imposing upon the counties, for no good reason at all, the obligation to go through all of this," Gurewitz told reporters. "I think that it shouldn't happen.

"I think that the statute should be amended so that it is clear that (a) good faith (belief) that this will affect the outcome of the election should be required for the recounts of ballot proposals, as it is for candidate recounts. But that is not what the statute currently provides."

Tony Daunt, a Republican member of the canvassing board, described the push for recounts as "frivolous" and "unnecessary." Daunt said he was concerned about the recount process "devolving into a circus" and individuals trying to use the effort in bad faith to issue subpoenas and pursue "forensic audit nonsense."

Conspiracy theories about voter fraud have gained the spotlight in Michigan since former President Donald Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen from him. Trump supporters analyzed election equipment and unsuccessfully pushed for a so-called "forensic audit" of Michigan's 2020 vote.

Jerome Jay Allen of Bloomfield Township, working with groups that have previously spread unproven election fraud claims in Michigan, signed paperwork last week and paid a $428,000 deposit to start the recount process.

His recount petitions touted unproven theories about election technology potentially altering votes.

The nonprofit Election Integrity Fund and Force announced the recount effort on its Facebook page, saying it was made possible by "financial support from" The America Project, a Sarasota, Fla.-based group that's led, in part, by Patrick Byrne, former CEO of Overstock.com. The America Project's website promotes "voter registration canvassing" and inspecting election machines.

The recount will address "concerns related to the voting system" being connected to the internet "creating a significant risk of foreign or domestic hacking," Allen wrote in his recount petitions. While claims of "hacking" impacting election results have lingered in Michigan for two years since the 2020 presidential election, they remain unsubstantiated.

Daniel Hartman, the lawyer who represented Allen on Monday, argued county canvassing boards would have the authority to investigate "issues that come up" during recounts and the ability to issue subpoenas.

Hartman's comments drew criticism from members of the state elections board, and Daunt clashed with Hartman. At one point, Daunt asked Hartman to stop yelling over him or he would have Hartman escorted out of the meeting.

"This is a fishing expedition," Daunt said.

"That's a prejudgement, sir, and I find that offensive," Hartman fired back.

The bipartisan Board of State Canvassers certified the election results last week. A state law allows any voter "who believes there has been fraud or error" to seek a recount within two days of the board's certification. But there's a price tag based on how many precincts are involved.

During Monday's meeting, the Board of State Canvassers determined that Allen's petition for a recount of Proposal 3 impacted fewer precincts than first thought. The panel didn't include hundreds of in-person voting precincts in Detroit that were referenced in a handwritten note by his lawyer, Stefanie Lambert, that was added to his notarized filing.

Gurewitz said the canvassers had also added guidelines that will require county boards to follow the direction of the state board and will prevent the local panels from launching their own spin-off investigations.

Proposal 3 passed with 57% in support and 43% in opposition, winning by more than 583,000 votes.

The Proposal 2 recount will include precincts in Kalamazoo, Macomb, Muskegon and Oakland counties.

The Proposal 3 recount will impact precincts in about half of Michigan's 83 counties.