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Fact Squad | Audit wouldn’t change outcome of Biden win in Michigan

Republicans seeking to delay Monday’s certification of Michigan’s election say more time is needed to investigate claims of irregularities and mismatched absentee counting board precincts in Detroit.

Courts have ruled, though, that no evidence of fraud has emerged in Michigan — and a Bridge Michigan analysis of vote tallies shows discrepancies in Detroit likely involve fewer than 500 votes in a state Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden won by more than 154,000.

That means an audit of the results, as Republicans have urged, would only delay the process rather than change the outcome and somehow uncover enough votes for President Donald Trump, Bridge’s analysis shows.

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In an interview Sunday on Fox, state House Speaker Lee Chatfield said it’s “very concerning” that 71 percent of Detroit’s absentee precincts were “out of balance,” meaning that the number of ballots cast didn’t match the number of envelopes recorded.

The remarks come one day after the Republican National Committee and Michigan Republican Party urged the state board of canvassers to delay certification by 14 days to audit Wayne County over the same issue.

But elections experts say the imbalances are typically the result of minor human mistakes, don’t significantly change vote tallies and are not indicative of fraud.

“Unbalanced precincts probably don’t indicate that *any* votes were discarded or invalid votes were cast, and their numbers are so small they wouldn’t even come close to affecting the outcome of the election,” University of Michigan law professor Sam Bagenstos wrote in a tweet Sunday.

In 2016, when a higher percentage of precincts were out of balance in Detroit, an audit by Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office concluded  a “multitude of human errors” led to discrepancies in Detroit, but there was “no evidence of pervasive voter fraud or … widespread equipment failure.”

In that election, Trump won Michigan by less than 11,000 votes and objected to Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s bid for a recount, accusing her of creating an “electoral farce” that would “sow doubts regarding the legitimacy of the presidential election.

The issue

Despite gains in the suburbs and west Michigan, Biden’s path through victory runs through Detroit.

Biden defeated Trump by 154,188 votes statewide, according to unofficial tallies. He won Detroit by 221,254 votes. So Trump theoretically would win the state by 67,000 votes if every vote in Detroit is disqualified — a stunning, unprecedented and very likely illegal disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters.


Could “out of balance” precincts change the outcome?

All but impossible.

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers issued a report Nov. 17 that found  72 percent of all precincts in Detroit, 458 of 637, were balanced in November, a significant improvement from August and 2016 when 54 percent were balanced.

That percentage includes all in-person voting precincts, however, and 67 percent of the city’s voters, 166,000 voters, cast ballots by mail.

For absentee precincts alone, 40 of 134 were balanced or “explained” soon thereafter to remedy the discrepancy.

That means 70 percent of absentee precincts were unbalanced, a level that was roughly the same as in the August primary, when canvassers certified the election but implored Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to add resources for the November election to prevent a similar occurrence. 

The lack of progress prompted two Republican canvassers in Wayne County last week to unsuccessfully try to rescind their votes to certify. 

How many votes are at issue?

It’s not entirely clear, but likely about 400.

In all, 63 Detroit counting boards were off by about four votes or fewer, creating a discrepancy of about 139 votes. 

Thirty-one other Detroit absentee voter counting boards had problems with five votes or more, though officials did not specify how much more. 


At minimum, that would mean another 155 votes, bringing the total to 294. (Others have estimated the discrepancy at roughly 400 votes, while Mayor Mike Duggan estimated it at 357.)

Either way, that’s still a long way from 154,000 votes.

And even if every vote in the 31 counting boards that gave Biden the biggest wins was somehow disqualified (again, a stunning disenfranchisement), it still would not change the outcome.

Biden would still win the city by over 150,000 votes and the state by over 80,000 votes.

That’s still more than seven times Trump’s margin of victory in Michigan in 2016. (10,704 votes)

One more thing ...

Making the infinitesimally small possibility of mammoth fraud even more remote is the fact that Detroit turnout was virtually the same as it was in 2016, about 250,000 votes. 

In fact, Biden received about 1,000 fewer votes in Detroit than Democrat Hillary Clinton had in 2016; and Trump got 5,000 more votes in the city this year than in 2016.

The vote split was remarkably similar to trendlines in previous presidential elections, except Trump did better than both Republicans Mitt Romney and John McCain. And with a population that’s 79 percent African-American, it’s not a surprise that Biden got 94 percent of the vote in Detroit: nationally, according to exit polls, Black voters broke for Biden 87-12.

It’s also important to note that Detroit was far from the only city to have issues with imbalanced precincts, as absentee votes surged statewide.

In Livonia, a similar percentage of absentee counting boards were out of balance, 68 percent (30 of 44), while 47 percent were unbalanced in Dearborn (21 of 45) and 51 percent were in Canton Township (21 of 41).

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