‘Safe, secure, transparent, fair’: Exactly how election results are certified

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Quietly sitting off to the side in the Kent County Board of Commissioners’ chambers in downtown Grand Rapids, Susanna Towns watches the process of making sure Tuesday’s election results are fair and accurate.

She has heard the rumors, many of them spread on social media, of dirty dealings when it comes to the voting process. Most are unsubstantiated.

“A lot of the misinformation that get put around, especially through social media these days. … I think your best practice is going to find out in person for yourself,” Towns said.

She came to see for herself just how the process works as the Kent County Board of Canvassers began the effort of certifying Tuesday’s election results.

“It is what I think is probably one of the most underappreciated but most valuable components. It’s kind of the last check and balance to our election process,” Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons said of the canvassers’ work.

Over the next two weeks, four citizens — two Democrats and two Republicans — assisted by county election staffers, will go over the results from all 252 voting precincts and all of the absentee counting boards in Kent County. Observers from organizations like the League of Woman Voters are also on hand on watch the process.

“They’ll check the poll book to make sure the number of ballots issued matches the number of people who came and requested a ballot,” Posthumus Lyons said.

Canvassers also check printouts from each tabulator that track vote totals on each ballot. Individual ballots are not examined.

“(They) count to make sure the results for each race on the tape match the results for each race in our election night reporting,” Posthumus Lyons explained.

Discrepancies are often tracked to something as simple as a spoiled ballot.

“If they can’t figure it out right away, they will call in our jurisdiction and they will retabulate the ballots for that precinct,” Posthumus Lyons said.

In the rare instance they can’t resolve a problems, ballots from that precinct are sealed in a special container and cannot be used if a recount is requested.

Posthumus Lyons said the process is open to the public for transparency’s sake and to prove a point often lost in the rhetoric of this moment of political divide:

“Kent County elections are safe, they’re secure, they’re transparent and they’re fair,” Posthumus Lyons said.

After observing the process, Susanna Towns agrees with the clerk.

“I believe that is the case, and I just came to keep people rest assured that every thing’s being done properly,” Towns said.

The board will meet every day for a process that’s expected to take about two weeks. All board of canvasser sessions, no matter what county you live in, are open to the public.