This is the first of a series of posts about legislative remedies to resolve the problems Michigan experienced in the November 2020 election.
There are many issues to address, and it would be a very long column to go through them all, so this will appear instead as a series of posts to address each issue specifically.
In this first column, we’re going to examine the issue of poll workers, or as they are referred to in the law, “election inspectors.”
Election inspectors perform the vital role of administering elections. Poll challengers may raise issues if they are conducting the election improperly, but if the election inspectors are honest and decent people, there would be no misconduct to report in the first place.
Michigan’s election law specifies that “the board of election commissioners shall appoint at least 1 election inspector from each major political party and shall appoint an equal number, as nearly as possible, of election inspectors in each election precinct from each major political party.” MCL 168.674.
Lawmakers understood that an election is an inherently adversarial process in which parties compete for power. Therefore, maintaining an equal number of Democrats and Republicans as election inspectors was crucial to ensure that neither party could break the rules. If, for example, all poll workers were Democrats, it would be possible for them to apply rules improperly, in a biased manner, with little recourse available to outsiders.
Of course, this is exactly what happened in Detroit, and probably elsewhere, in November 2020. Almost no Republicans were hired by the City of Detroit to work at the polls on Election Day, and at the TCF Center where absentee ballots were being counted, election officials illegally had Republican poll challengers removed from the premises. According to whistleblowers, signature checks were not performed, and over-voted ballots were improperly ruled to have voted Democrat.
How did Detroit get around the statutory requirement that poll workers be appointed equally from both major parties?
First, Michigan does not have partisan voter registration. We don’t have “registered Democrats” and “registered Republicans.” We’re all just voters.
The only enforceable exception is for a small percentage of people who are public officials, party officers, or precinct delegates with a public party affiliation.
The law does say that one is considered a member of a party if he or she “has made documented public statements specifically supporting by name” the party or its candidates in that same calendar year.
However, even if the election officials were to vet the public statements of every poll worker applicant (which they don’t), it would be easy to find people with no record of public statements.
Indeed, that appears to be exactly what Detroit did: They hired a massive number of teenagers, people under 18 years who were not even eligible to vote, to be electronic pollbook inspectors.
This problem could be easily remedied.
MCL 168.673 allows for the county chair of the Republican and Democrat parties to submit to the local clerks a list of individuals who are interested in serving as election inspectors. However, under current law, election officials may ignore this list completely.
The solution is simple: Amend Section 168.674 to require boards of election commissioners first appoint those eligible and willing to work as election inspectors from the lists provided by the county chairs.
This way, the county parties would be able to vet candidates for election inspectors, and the election officials must hire their qualified candidates first.
Additionally, the law should be amended to require boards of election commission first appoint registered voters over any other eligible person.
There is no logical reason American elections should be conducted by aliens, felons, or children. They should be conducted by stakeholders in the election, i.e. the voters.
Finally, subject to these constraints, boards of election commission should be required to appoint remaining election inspectors by random selection of qualified applicants.
Another problem with Detroit’s election was that the election inspectors were not hired in a normal public hiring process. Typically, a government agency will post job openings and have an application process available to the general public.
Detroit didn’t do that. The online application was never linked from its home page: it was a secret link that the public would never have been able to find. They posted a paper application, but provided no email address to submit it electronically or even a street address to deliver the application.
Instead, the hiring practice appeared to consist of tipping off their political friends.
The law should be amended to require boards of election commissioners to post notice, via its office building, website, or print media (i.e. similar to public notices) a period during which individuals may apply to become election inspectors. The board shall not accept applications prior to the start date and shall only accept applications after the end date if there is an insufficient number of qualified applicants. Members of the board of election commissioners shall not solicit applicants in a non-public manner.
Implementing these changes would go a long way toward ensuring that the spirit of the current law is faithfully implemented by requiring election officials to hire an equal number of genuine members of each political party.