Nov 4, 2020
Michigan Sec. of State Press Briefing on Election Count Update Transcript November 4
Michigan Sec. of State Jocelyn Benson held a press conference on November 4 to provide updates on vote counts. Read the transcript of the news briefing here.
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Secretary Benson: (01:38)
All right. Now we’re ready. So thank you everyone, and I apologize for that. Good morning again, and thank you for joining me today for an update on Michigan’s elections. Now, as I was mentioning, but as many of you could probably not here, our election clerks and our election workers have been working throughout the night to tabulate every vote and ensure that every vote was counted. Michigan’s 1600 clerks are public servants dedicated to protecting our democracy and providing accurate election results. And notably, as we now are really squarely in the counting of the absentee ballots, I think it’s important to note that as we look over the record-breaking voter turnout in this election, where over 5 million citizens voted, two-thirds of that, 3.2 million citizens at least, voted absentee.
Secretary Benson: (02:26)
So over the past several hours and indeed through the night, what’s been happening here on the ground in Michigan, all throughout the state, are bipartisan groups of election workers tabulating those ballots effectively, methodically, and securely. And this meticulous process is all about and focused on ensuring every absentee ballot is counted accurately and fairly. We have many secure protocols in place to confirm the validity of every ballot. And in fact, that’s why the process takes so much time. Our goal is to ensure, again, we’re being transparent, but also fully accurate. And that the public, you all, can trust the results of the results as an accurate reflection of the will of the people.
Secretary Benson: (03:10)
Now, importantly, as we go through this counting as the counting is completed, boards at the county and state levels, that are also comprised of people from both parties, will then review the procedures and counts of the entire elections before the results are certified as official. That’s the process we’re in right now, the beginning of that first tabulation. And when we have that first unofficial tabulation, which we hope will come sometime within the next 24 hours, we will then begin the process of finalizing and with additional secure protocols, moving towards an official tabulation, which could take even more time.
Secretary Benson: (03:45)
Now, notably, you may be thinking, “Why are we still waiting to hear from Michigan? And why are they still counting our ballots?” Well, for about 18 months, the election clerks throughout the State of Michigan and I, called on our state legislature to update our laws to provide time for pre-processing of ballots, that we’re on par with many other states, like our neighbors in Ohio who were able to count the vast majority of their ballots yesterday. Now, our state legislature chose not to make that change to our laws. And here we are in Michigan where our accounting process is continuing long after the polls have closed.
Secretary Benson: (04:15)
But rest assured, we’re focused on counting every single ballot. That’s our focus. Every single valid ballot in Michigan will be counted. And importantly also, right now, there are tens of thousands of ballots that still need to be counted. Jurisdictions have been reporting throughout the morning, as many of you know, and have been following, but the information I have is that ballots are still being counted in our largest jurisdictions, including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, Kalamazoo, and numerous other Michigan cities and townships.
Secretary Benson: (04:46)
Now, these ballots were cast by tens of thousands of Michigan citizens who have the right to have their vote counted. And we’re going to make sure that right is protected. We’re going to ensure that the results of our elections accurately reflect every single valid vote that was cast. And this is particularly important in close races, as the numbers of outstanding ballots are still greater than the margin of difference between many races with leading candidates.
Secretary Benson: (05:11)
At this point, I asked for patients out of respect to the will of our voters, and the work of our election workers who are volunteering in communities all across the state to serve the public, and are committed to ensuring an accurate count. Now I continue to expect, though I had four weeks said, we expect results to be in by Friday. We’re so certainly on track for that. But as I’ve also mentioned recently, we are on track to have our results in much sooner.
Secretary Benson: (05:35)
I’ll continue to expect that we’ll have more information throughout the day. And as I mentioned last night, I’m optimistic that by the end of the day, the majority of our ballots will be tabulated and we’ll be much closer to having a full, if not a full and complete and official result to announce at that point. But I also want to mention that yesterday in our elections, one of the best stories was how smoothly everything went. Voters were able to vote. There were minimal lines throughout the state with the exception of sometimes when a lot of voters showed up all at the same time.
Secretary Benson: (06:04)
So it’s great to see the process working. It’s great to see that throughout this election, more citizens voted in Michigan than ever before. It’s great to see that more citizens, two-thirds of the electorate, voted absentee than ever before. And it’s really encouraging to see that yesterday, throughout the day, over 28,000 eligible citizens registered and voted on election day. The vast majority of those were young voters under the age of 30.
Secretary Benson: (06:29)
So it’s a great story coming out of Michigan today. It’s a story that’s a reflection of people in every community rising up to ensure their votes are counted and their voices are heard. And now our job is to make sure we do right by them, and make sure we do count every valid vote so that their voices can be heard.
Secretary Benson: (06:45)
So I also call on everyone who’s watching this election, everyone who was on the ballot in this election, to join us in respecting the work of our election workers here in the State of Michigan. Respecting the voters and the clerks who have together and worked to ensure that we are seeing this high level of participation all across the state. As results come in, there may indeed be ways to determine the winners in statewide and other races, but again, I would ask that those determinations be made on actual data and vote counts, which I’m committed to providing as transparently as possible as the hours continue.
Secretary Benson: (07:22)
With that, I’m happy to take questions. I apologize again for the technical glitches and difficulties today. And we’ll continue to, throughout the day, provide you with updates in a smoother process than this one. Thanks. Please raise your electronic hand if you have a question to pose to us today.
Speaker 1: (07:47)
Good morning, Secretary Benson.
Secretary Benson: (07:50)
Speaker 1: (07:51)
Hi. What’s your best information now on how many total votes were cast, and whether in addition that setting a record for total votes cast…
Speaker 1: (08:02)
Setting a record for total votes cast, what the percentage turnout looks like in Michigan?
Secretary Benson: (08:08)
Well, we know that well over five million citizens voted and we’re still getting that actual tabulation in. We know that tens of thousands of ballots are still outstanding and need to be tabulated, and so we’ll get a lot, we’ll get a much firmer picture of that. But what I can say with confidence is that more citizens voted in this election than in our past record breaking election in 2008. And we’re really happy to see that. So in the days ahead, one of the data points that we’ll continue to focus on and work to get you all is that actual turnout number.
Secretary Benson: (08:37)
Some of you may know, I have a bet with the Ohio secretary of state as to who’s going to have the higher turnout percentage. So I’m eager to see that number and compare it to Ohio as well. But the bottom line is we’re focused right now on supporting our election workers as they securely and meticulously tabulate every vote and making sure we get those on the official results out to the public as efficiently as possible.
Speaker 2: (09:03)
Hi, Secretary Benson. First, I wanted to ask you, it looks like voters are no longer able to track their absentee ballots on the secretary of state’s website. Why is the system down and will it be working again soon? And second, you may have seen some social media users are sharing two screenshots of elections maps that appear to show Joe Biden receiving over 138,000 votes in one update overnight in Michigan with the other candidates not seeing their vote counts change. The suggestion is that Biden is being magically handed votes, and I’m wondering what you would say to those claims.
Secretary Benson: (09:38)
I would ask everyone to not repeat misinformation and we’ve seen a number of elections already this year, they use the false graphics to try to indicate that there’s some sort of problem with it happening. And what we’ve said throughout this entire election cycle is that we have to be mindful of posts made on social media. Now I have not seen the ones in particular that you’re talking about, but notably the trusted sources of information about the count here in Michigan are our election officials and the county websites and our website that’s reporting out the data.
Secretary Benson: (10:15)
That we encourage everyone to look at for results. And again, we’ve been very transparent about the whole process as every ballot has been tabulated and those results have been updated. And again, we really encourage everyone to know. We understand that the eyes of the nation around Michigan right now, and our voters and these ballots. We’re committed to ensuring accuracy and that every vote is counted and every ballot is validated. And we need to, and really I call on all of you in the media to help us and all of you watching to help us ensure accurate data and information is what is discussed in the ecosystem right now, as opposed to false or misleading claims.
Secretary Benson: (10:54)
Now, similarly, we have no reports that our absentee ballot tracking system is down. In fact, I just tracked my own ballot. I voted as some of you may know, dropped off my ballot at our drop box yesterday. I actually wanted to confirm prior to coming out here that it counted and I went to michigan.gov/vote and was able to confirm that. So we’re happy to look again and confirm and check, but both of those things are not things that I’ve seen actually come to fruition from our side of things here in Michigan.
Speaker 3: (11:31)
Hi, Secretary Benson. We saw last night, President Trump in his speech, not only declare victory, but say that he was going to be going to the Supreme Court, but was unclear for what reasons he would be doing so. Can you talk about what the state of Michigan can do in response to that and how a court could potentially stop the count if that’s possible, what that looks like?
Secretary Benson: (12:03)
So, again, right now we’re focused on counting every ballot in the state of Michigan. We’ve got clear protocol, secure protocols in place to tabulate those votes and to continue to report out that data as they become publishable. So that’s our focus. We stand by the process. As an election law attorney myself who spent close to two decades working on election law issues and ran a law school or very familiar with the process and legality of our process and have great confidence in it and we’re ready to defend it. But again, this story for us is about making sure at this point, every valid ballot is counted.
Secretary Benson: (12:39)
And we, as well as many of our clerks all around the state, I’m confident will fight on behalf of every single voter who got their ballots in on time, who made sure that they played by the rules and got their vote in. We’re going to make sure those votes count and that they’re part of our official totals. Hi, Dave.
Hi, Secretary of State. I’m with the Associated Press. Can you elaborate more how many ballots are still left to be counted in Michigan?
Secretary Benson: (13:10)
I would say it’s just over a hundred thousand or so at least that we’re seeing in the field. As I mentioned, we still have some ballots coming in from Detroit. We know we have a sizeable number of absentee ballots still being tabulated in Grand Rapids. Flint is in the final stages of tabulating their absentee ballots, and I believe they should have results to publish quite soon if not already, in Kalamazoo as well and then there are a number of smaller jurisdictions. So we’re tracking all those numbers and we really want to respect the process and the validation again of every ballot because we know how important it is to be meticulous and detail oriented at this very moment.
Secretary Benson: (13:57)
So that’s why I’m really focusing on those broad numbers as we work to get those official or unofficial results, but very securely tabulated ballots out of the jurisdictions that I just mentioned and many others that are still tabulating. What I’m confident or I feel very good about is the fact that as these tabulations continue, I expect we’ll hear from Grand Rapids later today. I expect we’ll hear from Detroit sometime in the next few hours. I expect we’ll hear from Flint very soon, Kalamazoo as well. Again, we want to also just respect the process and make sure that they’re able to meticulously dot every I, cross every T, get it right, and get it accurate prior to anything being published.
Secretary Benson: (14:37)
So that’s a lot of why we’re just being very careful right now with, again, trying to communicate that we’ll have a much better picture, as I’ve said consistently, by the end of today about the vote totals in Michigan.
Speaker 4: (14:52)
Eric Lloyd [inaudible 00:14:53].
Secretary Benson: (14:54)
Eric Lloyd: (14:56)
Hello, Secretary. I was just wondering if you had any insight onto what’s going on in Antrim County. It’s a very staunchly GOP area and the numbers were surprising and it could lead to quite a flip if there’s some mistakes there.
Secretary Benson: (15:11)
Well, I’ll let the pundits and the people looking closely at the data and the results of different elections make those analyses. I’m truly just focused on myself as I advise a lot of folks to do just blocking out the noise and focusing on the count, making sure we get those tabulations done, making sure they’re secure and making sure that the ballots are validated and that we’re following the process to the letter so that people can have confidence that as the results come out, however they are analyzed, that they are an accurate reflection of the will of the people.
Hi, Secretary Benson …
Secretary Benson: (15:48)
… Thanks for doing this.
Secretary Benson: (15:51)
What was the number of ballots, absentee ballots received by the city of Detroit at the TCF Center by 8:00 last night? And were there any ballots-
… and were there any ballots that showed around Detroit later on?
Secretary Benson: (16:08)
So a couple of things. At the eight o’clock press conference in Detroit last night, the Detroit city clerk and the number of leaders in the absentee counting ballot process mentioned that between 170,000 and 180,000, somewhere between there, were the number of ballots that they were tabulating and expected to be tabulating for the city of Detroit. Notably, ballots had to be in by 8:00 PM to the city of Detroit. So after that point, there were still collection happening perhaps immediately alongside that moment. Ballot drop boxes were being emptied, satellite clerk’s offices, there were 21 all around the city, were being shut down and any ballots dropped off there were secured. And so the 8:00 PM deadline for ballots to be in was strictly enforced. And at that point, at the same time, right around 8:00 PM when there was a press conference happening at TCF, they were able to talk about the ballots that had been in at that point and noted that there were still additional ballots coming in from those that were submitted close to the 8:00 PM deadline.
Secretary Benson: (17:17)
So again, that really underscores why we’re kind of talking in rough estimates right now. Because even once the ballot comes in, as you all know, it has to be validated. The signature on the envelope has to be checked with a signature that we have on file before it can even begin to be preprocessed and prepared for tabulation. So for ballots getting in, in Detroit or anywhere else in the state at 7:45, those will count because they arrived on time. But we’re still in the process and many clerks, particularly in Detroit and their absentee counting boards are in the process of making sure all the procedures are followed prior to the tabulation. And so, again, it’s a long answer to your question, but that’s why I just wanted to kind of clarify why we’re talking in estimates here of 170 to 180, because we still haven’t seen the full numbers of how many came in at that last minute in Detroit.
Speaker 5: (18:06)
Secretary Benson, [inaudible 00:18:08]
Secretary Benson: (18:08)
Hi [inaudible 00:18:08]
Speaker 5: (18:09)
Right. Can you tell me how many provisional ballots were cast in Detroit late yesterday? I heard that the number of people who didn’t get their absentee ballots in the mail, so they showed up to polling precincts and cast provisional ballots.
Secretary Benson: (18:25)
We don’t have the exact numbers yet, but I’ll tell you what the procedure was. If someone, voter anywhere in the state showed up and had sent in their ballot, their absentee ballot, and then they showed up at the precinct because it hadn’t been marked received in our tracking system, the procedure that was followed was this. The poll worker would contact the clerk or in Detroit, we actually had a whole call center set up for this. They would make the call and they would confirm whether or not that ballot was received. If the clerk on the other end of the phone said, “Yes. I have the ballot here. It’s received,” that ballot in the clerk’s hand is what would count and the voter would be told that. And now if voter still wanted to have an assurance that they would have a vote in, they have an option at that point to cast a provisional ballot.
Secretary Benson: (19:06)
And so if they cast a provisional ballot and if for some reason, whatever was on the other line that ended up not being a received ballot, then that provisional ballot would count. However, the other scenario is if a voter shows up and says, “I returned my ballot, it’s not marked yet as received.” The call was made to the clerk’s office and the clerk’s office then confirms, yes, indeed. This ballot has not been received by whatever point in the day it is on Tuesday. The voter at that point could then vote a regular ballot. And then at that point, it’s marked in our qualified voter file. If any absentee ballot does arrive from that voter, and of course, every ballot is barcoded, then that ballot arriving, that absentee ballot arriving would be invalidated and spoiled and not counted. So that’s the sort of bifurcated process. You see one scenario you’d have provisional ballots, one you’d have an actual ballot.
Secretary Benson: (19:55)
In all scenarios, only one vote is counted per voter. And I imagine a lot of the details and to the extent that either of those scenarios played down in our precincts yesterday will be sorted out in the days to come.
Hi Secretary Benson.
Secretary Benson: (20:11)
I wanted to ask, you mentioned there’s about 100,000, maybe a little more than 100,000 outstanding votes. Are all of those absentee ballots or are there a few in-person ballots that are still outstanding? And if there are a few, about how many of those would you say are remaining?
Secretary Benson: (20:25)
These are, if not all, the vast majority are absentee ballots. The ballots voted in-person yesterday were reported soon after the polls closed. And those were really the first returns that you started to see alongside some absentee ballots in smaller communities that had not as many absentee ballots to go through. So you saw a mixture of both, but you saw in many communities like a Detroit, or like some of our larger jurisdictions, just the in-person vote coming through, if that. And so now we’re at a point where a lot of that in-person vote has been reported and the remaining ballots are primarily those, if not all those voted absentee. Again, remember, and particularly for folks nationally, here in Michigan we have a very decentralized process particularly when it comes to counting. We have 1,520 local election jurisdictions within 83 counties. And that counting process happens on the local level.
Secretary Benson: (21:17)
So we’re also very mindful of that process. It’s another reason why it has always taken several hours, if not days, for results to come through our state, because that process is continually effectuated at the local level and then reported up to us at the state. So we’re always also mindful of communication that is on route, as I’m speaking to you now, that may have happened at the local level but didn’t get to us yet. And that’s why, again, patience and vigilance is really key. And just knowing we’re really committed to getting this right, and to counting every vote.
Secretary Benson: (21:52)
Secretary Benson, thank you. We are hearing that attorneys are coming to the TCF Center to challenge the vote or the count. What can you say about any sort of legal challenges that may or may not be going on with the count right now?
Secretary Benson: (22:07)
As I mentioned before, we understand the heightened focus that our state is under and that our processes are under. And so we fully expect that there will be a number of people watching the process or perhaps even, as we’ve already heard, putting out allegations about the process or anything in between. The bottom line for us is that we’re just focused on getting this right. And we’re focused on getting this right in a way that can withstand any court challenges. I’ll also mention, and we’ve seen this not just in Michigan, but in other states. A lot of times court challenges or allegations are thrown around to further political agendas as opposed to actually legal claims. So we’re mindful of that as well.
Secretary Benson: (22:48)
And that’s why for us, we’re just laser focused on counting every vote. We welcome people to observe the process as they have throughout this entire day and yesterday, and since the polls opened and the counting began. And we’ll continue to do that as we, again, stay focused on providing everyone with the confidence that we’re going to count every valid vote in Michigan, and we will work to protect the legality of that process in every way that we’re called upon to do so.
Secretary Benson: (23:19)
Hey Secretary, thanks for doing this. Your office had mentioned yesterday that there were some live calls sent to voters in Flint and Grand Rapids related to misinformation about the possibility of being arrested at the polls. Do you have any updates on where those came from, what the scope of those calls were and if it might’ve affected the vote there?
Secretary Benson: (23:42)
We know a couple of things. One, when calls came to our voters, they were almost immediately reported out to our attorney general and to our office. Our attorney general then swiftly went to work, both debunking the claims and launching an investigation. And we’re, of course, supporting that investigation. And we worked and really doubled down our efforts to inform every voter about their rights. In any-
Secretary Benson: (24:03)
Worked and really doubled down our efforts to inform every voter about their rights, in any community that was affected. We know that robocalls and text messages and a number of other efforts that were targeting our voters yesterday, in an effort to depress turnout and deter people from voting. What I saw yesterday, however, is that they didn’t work. Numerous people voted, record breaking turnout in communities all across the state. And particularly in the communities that you mentioned, we saw a large number of people vote, both during the day and absentee. That’s a good thing, it’s an encouraging thing. And it shows to me the goal of misinformation, is to cause citizens to lose confidence in the results of their election and believe that their votes don’t count and their voices don’t matter. But we really have been working in Michigan to make sure, if and when this information hit our state and hit our citizens as it did yesterday, in certain areas, that they knew not to believe it and they knew what to do with it, which was reported to us. And that’s exactly what happened.
Secretary Benson: (24:58)
It was really gratifying. It was actually a great thing to see. And again, we all worked together as a team to make sure that we educated our voters. We continue to encourage people to know with confidence that if they showed up to vote, their vote would count, that they would be safe and secure. And indeed, that’s exactly what did happen for everyone who voted in person yesterday.
Speaker 7: (25:20)
Jordan [inaudible 00:25:22] this will be the last question.
Hi Secretary Benson.
Secretary Benson: (25:25)
I was wondering if the department had a breakdown of rejected ballots and reason for rejection yet? And if not, when one would be made available.
Secretary Benson: (25:38)
Well, as you know, that’s something that we’ve consistently looked upon and tracked in many elections so far this year. And as you also may know, in past elections, it takes a few days to get those counts. And in fact, in the past, we’ve tried to let you know as soon as we could, when there’ve been ballots that otherwise have been rejected. And we know oftentimes it happens when a ballot arrives late, postmarked prior to election day, but arrives after, sometimes the ballot arrives in an envelope with a signature that doesn’t match or that is missing. Notably, our clerks were required for this election if that happened under state law, to follow up with the voter, to give them an opportunity to confirm their identity and cure their signature. We’re still sorting through a lot of those details and a lot of that data. We certainly will have it in the days ahead. And again, and once we have it, we will let you know about it. As you know, those numbers are important to me, as well as someone who’s committed to ensuring that every valid vote is counted and we want to continue to educate voters in the public, if there is ever a time in which a vote is not able to be counted, why that is. And that’s why I really just want to close by reemphasizing our process here and what everyone can expect in the days to come. Right now in Michigan, tens of thousands of ballots, absentee ballots, remain to be counted particularly in the larger communities I mentioned. Parts of Detroit, all of Flint, all of Grand Rapids and all of Kalamazoo City and as well as some smaller jurisdictions throughout the state.
Secretary Benson: (27:04)
We anticipate by the end of today, we’ll have a much clearer picture of the counts in those and other communities and we’ll again, continue to update you throughout the day and feel free to reach out to us if you have additional questions. After that happens, when we announce the full statewide tabulation of every vote in this state, that is the unofficial tabulation, there is then a subsequent process, canvassing the vote, auditing the vote, confirming the vote at the county level and ultimately at the state level, with the state board of canvassers, that’s going to happen over the next two weeks.
Secretary Benson: (27:32)
And we also know, and we’re already seeing, and we’re prepared for any challenges that are going to come in that same time period. We’re still moving forward with that methodically with our eyes laser focused on counting every vote and protecting every legal vote in the state of Michigan, ensuring that it’s part of our official results, ultimately when we get there. But this process will continue in the days ahead. And we’re going to continue to update you with all the data points as they reveal themselves to us throughout this process in the days ahead.
Secretary Benson: (28:05)
And I really want to close by again, thanking the election workers who stayed up all night throughout the state to count these votes. Those who showed up in Detroit at 9:00 PM last night and stayed until 5:00 AM counting through the night methodically and securely. Taking on the challenges that came their way to make sure every vote was counted. Proudly doing so. I’ve talked to so many of them and all they just wanted to know, like we all do, is that every vote was going to count and they wanted to be a part of that process.
Secretary Benson: (28:33)
And so right now, throughout the state of Michigan, a lot of that’s still happening and I want to more than anything, just respect their work and stand back and let them do their jobs so that we can all be confident when we get the results from those absentee counting boards that they’re accurate and they’re a reflection of a lot of hard work. But just also know that we are working as efficiently as possible within the confines of our current law to get that data out to you again, with great gratitude and thanks to the election workers who have been working tirelessly, meticulously to count every vote.
Secretary Benson: (29:05)
Thanks. And I’m sure I’ll talk to many of you in the hours ahead.