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Despite Detroit poll book snafu, most voting went smoothly this Election Day, MI Secretary of State says

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The Michigan Secretary of State’s office says voting precincts across the state were busy this Election Day, but there have been relatively few issues reported.

The major exception was in Detroit. That’s where a morning technological snafu with electronic poll books led to some voters being mistakenly told they had already voted absentee.

The Michigan Department of State said the issue was addressed quickly, and all eligible voters were allowed to vote.

In a statement, the state department explained what happened.

"Typically, when voting in a precinct, an electronic pollbook, or laptop based 'e-pollbook,' is used to confirm a voter is registered and has not been issued or has not cast an absentee ballot. Then, poll workers provide a numbered ballot to the voter in the precinct," the department said.

"According to the Detroit Clerk’s office, in a few instances this morning upon checking in a voter, some e-pollbooks displayed an error message stating that the number on the ballot they were about to provide to the voter in the precinct was identical to a number on an absentee ballot that had already been issued," the statement continued.

"When this occurred, the poll worker added an additional letter to the precinct ballot to distinguish them from the absentee ballots. Then voters, because they actually had not received or cast an absentee ballot, were issued the precinct ballot. In all circumstances eligible voters were able to vote."

Former President Donald Trump criticized the error on social media Tuesday. He called for protests in Detroit. No significant protests had occurred as of Tuesday evening.

Secretary of State spokesman Jake Rollow said election officials across the state were prepared for such an event, and have been working with law enforcement to boost election security for months. “We have been prepared for this long before the former president issued his statement,” Rollow said.

In 2020, hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the then-TCF Center (now Huntington Place) and tried to disrupt the absentee vote-counting process. They claimed fraud was occurring there, though there was no evidence of that.

Rollow said that as of 6:30 p.m., around 12,000 people had registered to vote on Tuesday. That compares to about 30,000 total in November 2020.

“[It] wouldn't surprise me if we end up at about half of that [2020 total],” Rollow said. “May be hard to say for sure, but it maybe wound up at about 15,000 for the day today. Could be more than that.”

Rollow said long lines at some polling places have been reported in Ann Arbor and East Lansing. He attributed that to students waiting until the final hour to register and vote.

Rollow also said there have been very few problems with vote tabulators this Election Day, with only about 10 — out of around 4,000 in the state — reported as malfunctioning statewide. He said the machines were rebooted, which solved the problem, and counting resumed.

Overall, the Secretary of State's office reported higher-than-anticipated turnout on Tuesday evening. The agency said Michigan could be on track to have one of the highest turnout midterm elections in its history.

In an earlier update, at 5 p.m., Rollow said there were only two polling-place incidents so far that he’s aware of. One man at a Detroit polling place told people they "did not look like they were eligible to vote." He was removed. Another man in Ann Arbor was told to stop improperly challenging people for asking their absentee ballot to be scrapped so they could vote in person. It's legal to scrap an absentee ballot and vote in person instead.

“I'm still hearing from field teams across the state that things are going smoothly,” Rollow said.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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