State election officials in Michigan have determined that most of Detroit’s voting machines malfunctioned on election day, raising the possibility that the recount currently underway in the state could end up with a significantly higher tally for Hillary Clinton than was reported on election night. Michigan, which Donald Trump won by just over 10,000 votes on election night, was the second-tightest race of the election. Prompted in part by apparent irregularities in the results, Green Party candidate Jill Stein petitioned for a recount in the state, which was approved by a federal judge on Monday.
In the course of the recount, however, election officials realized that the tallies on poll books did not match those on voting machines in numerous precincts, concentrated largely in African-American areas. In heavily Democratic Wayne County, which includes Detroit, 610 of 1,680 precincts had discrepancies in the tallies. In the city of Detroit a whopping 60% of precincts have unmatched tallies. Throughout the rest of the state, similar irregularities appear in a select number of heavily African-American precincts in cities like Flint and Lansing.
Daniel Baxter, the elections director for the city of Detroit, blamed the discrepancies on the city’s aging voting machines, which are nearly a century old and are wont to jam when ballots are fed in, leading to inaccurate vote totals. That such a problem is confined largely to poor African-American precincts reflects the effects of institutionalized racism that prioritizes infrastructure improvements to serve wealthy whites at the expense of marginalized groups.
As things stand now, the discovery of the irregularities in Wayne County actually makes it less likely Clinton will make a comeback in the recount. That’s because state law says that precincts with discrepancies between poll books and voting machines cannot be recounted, and without the possibility of uncounted votes in Wayne County, it would be nearly impossible for her to make up Trump’s margin of victory. However, the law gives local poll workers two attempts to check the data and rectify the discrepancies, raising the possibility that the correct vote totals could be determined and could provide a significant boost to Clinton. At the very least, the affair raises the issue of unequal treatment of African-American communities, where even an act as simple as voting is tainted with racial disparities.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.