UPDATED: Recount halted: Ballots cast in Sylvan Township millage can't be counted due to failed seal
Editor's note: This story was updated at 7 p.m.
A recount of the ballots cast in the Sylvan Township millage proposal was halted after county canvassers discovered the containers holding the ballots were not sealed correctly Tuesday.
The Washtenaw County Board of Canvassers met Tuesday to review the ballots cast in six races and proposals in the August primary that had been requested to be recounted by the Aug. 16 deadline.
Janice Carr of Sylvan Township filed the request for a recount of ballots cast in the August vote to levy a 4.4 mill tax in Sylvan Township to pay back Washtenaw County for loan payments and back taxes.
The millage passed by a margin of seven votes.
However, officials said Tuesday that each of the three zippered containers holding ballots from the Sylvan Township precincts were sealed incorrectly.
Several Sylvan Township residents attended the recount Tuesday - including Patrick Zieske and Rod Branham. After the August primary, Branham will be the new treasurer for the township board after the incumbents were swept out of office by voters.
Zieske and Branham would not reveal if they voted for the millage or not, but stated that a recount is necessary to put the issue to rest.
Emotions are running high amongst Sylvan Township residents on the issue, Zieske said. Because it would only take four votes to be overturned for the issue to fail, Branham said the recount was crucial ensure there is no doubt about the outcome of the election moving forward.
As no recount is possible, the results of the election are capped at the original vote tally.
Zieske and Branham said they weren’t pointing fingers or accusing anyone of voter fraud, but concerned about the potential for tempering with the official ballot count if it could not be verified with a recount.
“The voters deserve to have this recount,” Branham said.
“I didn’t anticipate a change in the numbers, but I wanted to put it to rest,” Zieske said.
Michigan law is not completely black-and-white when it comes to the issue of the seal.
The state abides by a general rule that ballots cannot be recounted if anything can be inserted into the sealed container holding the ballots - for example, a hand or piece of paper.
Plastic ties, each with a unique number that’s recorded in a log book, act as the official seal.
In the case of the Sylvan Township ballots, the plastic tie had been affixed in a way that it allowed the zippers to separate and about a two-inch gap to be opened.
The opening was large enough that the ballots could have been tampered with, according to the canvassers at the recount after consulting a state-level official.
Inside the zippered bag, there were large envelopes holding the physical ballots that were sealed with official stickers.
Because the recount was not able to take place, the result of the original vote holds and the millage passes. The only recourse for action is to seek a court order for a recount.