Which is Worse: $5 Million Recount or $10 Million “Anti-Fraud” Bill?
December 9, 2016
Amidst all the post-election controversy generated by the Michigan recount of the presidential vote, and the simultaneous push to ram bills through the Legislature’s lame-duck session, I have a question. My query is this: Which is more ridiculous, the $5 million price tag for a statewide recount that would not have changed the election outcome, or the $10 million quietly tacked onto a new voter ID bill? That measure is working its way through the Legislature and supposedly solves a fraud problem that doesn’t really exist.
My view is that the aborted recount—halted by a federal judge—was harmless. It can’t hurt to double-check; to ensure that we got everything right, when the margin of difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton here in Michigan was 0.2 percent. Republicans irrationally feared that this amounted to a multi-million dollar effort to steal the election for Clinton.
Regardless, the issue of payment fairness seems clear: Green Party candidate Jill Stein should have been charged more than her $970,000 in fees. That’s an area where the law needs to be changed. Legislation introduced in recent days would require a candidate requesting a recount who lost the vote by 5 percentage points or more to pay the full cost of the process. It’s unlikely the retroactive provision to make Stein pay up in 2016 will hold water.
As for the $5 million cost estimate to count 4.8 million ballots a second time, that was put forward by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican. Johnson’s chief elections director, who holds a nonpartisan post, had put the projected cost closer to the $1 million range.
$10 million expense a political ploy
Meanwhile, outrage over the $5 million stood in contrast to the reaction surrounding the $10 million slapped onto the voter ID bills. The public response? Crickets.
An eight-figure expense is proposed for a package of anti-fraud bills—already passed by the House—though the Secretary of State assures that instances of voter fraud in Michigan have been rare for decades. So, why the need for a variation of the current system to make the Michigan photo ID law tougher? State law provides that a voter who lacks sufficient photo identification at the polls can still cast a ballot if they fill out an affidavit attesting to their identity, and election workers can confirm that he or she is registered. A fraudulent affidavit brings a criminal charge.
The bills now pending in the Senate would go a step further by adopting the provisional ballot protocol that prevails in some other states. A Michigan voter without proper ID would cast a ballot with provisional status. It would be set aside and not counted unless the voter returns to city hall within 10 days with an acceptable photo identification.
The $10 million allocation, added as an amendment at a committee meeting last week, simply serves as a political ploy to make the bill referendum-proof. The state constitution prevents referendum ballot proposals on approved legislation that provides an appropriation of public dollars.
In effect, millions of taxpayer money is allocated in the legislative process to prevent voters from having an up-or-down vote on a new law.
Serendipity as recount negates fraud argument
The stated reason for the multi-million dollar expense is to provide “election modernization” and to educate clerks on how to handle the paperwork under the new provisional ballot process. Modernization is not much of an issue, as all voting precincts in Michigan already have the optical scan machines required across the state. As for educating local clerks, just 18,388 ballots were cast on Nov. 8 by people without photo ID – or 0.4 percent of all ballots cast.
So, what we have is a $10 million expense to help municipal clerks understand a simple process that will require them, in many cases, to handle follow-up trips to city/township hall by maybe 20 or 30 voters. Beyond the illogical allocation, the message presented by the anti-fraud bill was serendipitously muddled by the recount process. The objections by countless state and local officials to the recount had stated that it was unnecessary because there is no evidence of voting shenanigans in Michigan.
In court, Michigan Republican Party lawyers arguing before a federal judge insisted that, even in the event of an invasion by “Martians,” the state system reliably bars foul play at the ballot box. Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, who sued in the state courts to block the recount, was the highest-ranking official to heighten this mixed message. If the AG’s Office insists that there is no fraud in our state’s election results, will the AG declare that the GOP legislation targeting voter IDs—clearly representing a disproportionate burden for low-income and elderly voters—is unnecessary?
If not, before the lame-duck session in Lansing ends on Dec. 15th we could see approval of a $10 million spending bill to protect us all from a nebulous voting concern that only applies to less than one-half of 1 percent of all ballots.
I don’t buy it. And, as a taxpayer, I don’t want to pay for it.
A freelance writer from Macomb County, was the political reporter at The Macomb Daily for nearly 30 years. At the Daily he earned 50 journalism awards and in 2014 he was named by Politico as one of the “Media Stars” in seven political battleground states. He can be reached at email@example.com.