Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey reported few problems with counting votes Tuesday night, and said the final numbers should be ready Wednesday evening.

The principal Election Day controversy in Detroit, oddly, came from a courtroom in Washington, D.C. There, a federal judge ordered U.S. Postal Service officials on a search for undelivered ballots in Detroit and elsewhere, with instructions to send them to polling locations, post-haste.

But the USPS opted to disregard the order, leaving the fate and exact whereabouts of 300,000 ballots from 12 cities or regions unknown.

In Macomb County, meanwhile, a confrontation between supporters of President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden turned into a moment you’d think someone had scripted — and in Flint, the script of a Tuesday morning robocall drew the ire of the top names in Michigan government.

Two of those names, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel, tweeted a photo Tuesday evening of a Warren polling place where red and blue partisans were involved in what Benson called a “tense exchange,” complete with bullhorns.

The tenor changed, however, when the two groups united in song, breaking into “God Bless America.”

A few miles away, Winfrey said she expected the final numbers on Detroit turnout to be 53%-55%, with 172,000 absentee ballots returned out of a mailing of 190,000. Some 129,000 had been tabulated by 7:30 p.m., she said; the remaining 43,000 still had to be viewed by challengers from both major parties.

Precinct turnout was light at 15%, she said, a predictable figure given the high number of absentees.

As an estimated 2 million Michigan voters headed to the polls to help elect America’s next president, fraudulent robocalls plagued Flint and a jolting but ultimately benign report about absentee ballots popped up on CNN.

The controversy in the nation’s capital came after an order by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan regarding ballots that had received incoming scans in a dozen cities or regions in swing states, but not exit scans. He gave postal officials until 3 p.m. Tuesday to conduct the searches and send any identified ballots before polls close.

The USPS responded early Tuesday evening that had opted to keep its own 4-8 p.m. inspection schedule. There was no indication how many ballots, if any, had been found in Detroit, central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Colorado/Wyoming, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Alabama, northern New England, greater South Carolina and South Florida.

Nessel, meanwhile, said Tuesday that her office had received multiple reports of phone calls advising voters they should cast their ballots Wednesday to avoid long lines.

“Obviously this is FALSE and an effort to suppress the vote,” Nessel said in a tweet. “No long lines and today is the last day to vote. Don’t believe the lies! Have your voice heard!” 

With absentee and mail-in ballots under unusual scrutiny nationwide after accusations of impropriety by President Donald Trump, CNN reported Tuesday that 77,483 absentee ballots in Michigan had been declared spoiled. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office confirmed the number, but spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer said the number involved ballots rendered invalid by printing errors or intentionally withdrawn by voters.

On the telephone front Tuesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Benson issued separate statements instructing Flint voters that in order to cast ballots, they must be in line before 8 p.m. on Election Day.

“Lines in the area and across the state are minimal and moving quickly, and Michigan voters can feel confident that leaders across state and local government are vigilant against these kinds of attacks on their voting rights and attempts at voter suppression,” Benson said in a statement. 

The robocalls came a day after Nessel warned Dearborn voters of a text message falsely telling voters that there were “ballot sensor errors” in tabulators that led to the misreading of presidential votes.

The text message was sent to at least one voter and flagged by the American Civil Liberties Union, which alerted Nessel’s office, Wimmer said.

“That’s not an issue,” Wimmer said. “You vote for whoever you want to vote for and the tabulator will tabulate it correctly.”

The robocalls come weeks after conservative activists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman allegedly orchestrated thousands of calls in Detroit that made claims to discourage voters from mailing in absentee ballots, including warning about personal information added to a database available to law enforcement. 

A federal district judge ordered Wohl and Burkman to make curative calls dispelling the misinformation. The pair also faces felony charges in Michigan for the alleged calls. Burkman and Wohl have argued they are innocent and didn’t make the calls.

The state had received back about 3.1 million of the 3.5 million absentee ballots requested as of Tuesday morning, a record absentee number tied in part to efforts to reduce potential exposure by voters to COVID-19.

The spoiled ballots included several thousand printed with an error. In those cases, revised ballots were sent to affected voters, Benson’s office said.

Voters were allowed to spoil their own ballots through Monday, replacing them with a fresh ballot filled out at their local clerk’s office. Reasons for replacement vary, but might include second thoughts about a candidate or concern about a possible mistake that might disqualify a ballot.

Some voters, according to the Secretary of State, spoiled ballots due to concerns about postal delays.

A different sort of concern led to about 100 Plymouth Township residents surrendering their absentee ballots and requesting new ones at their polling locations, said clerk Jerry Vorva.

The confusion involved absentee voting applications and stemmed from November 2019, when the Bureau of Elections informed local election clerks that they should include a dual absentee application option on their March 10 absentee ballot application. The option allowed voters who applied for a March absentee ballot to automatically receive a November absentee ballot as well.

In Plymouth Township, many voters forgot or didn’t realize they had checked the box for applications for both March and November, Vorva said.

As a result, he’s had angry residents accusing him of sending unsolicited ballots. About 100 others came to their polling locations Tuesday determined to cast a ballot in person only to be told they were registered as having received an absentee ballot already.

In-person voters who had already received an absentee ballot were asked to sign an affidavit surrendering the absentee ballot and requesting a new ballot to be filled out at the polling location.

“I have to answer the phone a thousand times because of this and during a busy time, how I’m supposed to do this?” Vorva said.

Long lines were reported as polling locations opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday, and about a dozen reserve poll workers were deployed Tuesday morning to Pontiac and Grand Rapids to help there, Benson spokesman Jake Rollow said. The state has more than 1,500 poll workers in reserve to deploy as needed.

If the estimates prove accurate, Michigan is on pace to set exceed the current voter turnout record of 5.08 million voters set in 2008 when Democrat Barack Obama was elected as America’s first Black president.  

Despite the accelerated turnout, Macomb County Clerk Fred Miller said he had “not heard of any significant issues, though he expected the tabulation to be time consuming. “When you’re dealing with a huge volume like we are, it’s a lot of work for people to get through and it’s just going to take time.”

He said that as of 6 p.m., “we’ve issued, countywide, about 310,000 absentee ballots. Over 90% of them have been returned, which is a great number.”

In 2016, Macomb issued around 121,000 absentee ballots.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com