New plans for how Detroit will verify votes during the August 2 primary election will include more stringent protocols that tighten the leash on the number of challengers present on the Central Counting Board floor as election inspectors count and verify ballots. The move comes nearly two years after election workers at the formerly-named TCF Center saw angry protesters line up along the center’s glass windows, chanting, “Stop the count!” and causing other obstructions, Daniel Baxter, an election inspector for Detroit since 1985 told One Detroit.

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One Detroit’s Bill Kubota visits an election inspector training hosted by Baxter and David Nathan, an election trainer for Detroit, for a look at what goes on behind the scenes of elections and what election workers are required to know to preserve the democratic process.

August 2 primary

Election inspectors work at Detroit’s old TCF Center admist a sea of Republican and Democratic challengers on election night during the 2020 election. | Screenshot by One Detroit

Baxter talks about the critical role election inspectors play in the process of election day, the roughly 50,000 absentee ballots expected to come in by the August 2 primary election, the importance of taking a nonpartisan approach to election inspecting, what election workers need to know heading into the primary, and the rise in Republicans who’ve reached out to help with the inspection process in 2022.

Plus, Nathan shares his belief that the decisions made during the 2022 and 2024 elections will likely define the outcome and foundational strength of America’s democracy. And, Baxter talks about the overall perseverance of the Detroit Department of Elections through the 2020 election and beyond.

Full Transcript:

Daniel Baxter, Election Administrator, City of Detroit: I’d just like to start off by saying greetings to each and every one of you on behalf of the Detroit Department of Elections and our Detroit city clerk. Like I said, I’ve been doing this since 1985. I love this stuff. You know, elections is in my blood. I’d like to welcome each and every one of you to the August 2nd, 2022 primary election central counting board training class. My name is Daniel Baxter. I just want to share a couple of things with you as we engage in this particular training.

Our election inspectors are basically the lifeblood of the operation. They’re the folks who come in at five o’clock in the morning. Every Detroit resident who votes by absentee ballot is definitely depending on them to guarantee that their ballots are processed accurately as well as timely. So we’re looking at about 50,000 thousand absentee ballots that will be returned by voters for the August 2nd Election Day.

Bill Kubota: Detroit’s elections operation’s been under scrutiny for years. At times, vote counts are out of balance. That is numbers not adding up. Then came the Trump-Biden election. Detroit’s absentee vote count at what they used to call the TCF center, was hit by the national spotlight.

Daniel Baxter: In 2020, when all of that happened, it was perhaps the most exciting election that I had ever engaged in. And I thought 2008 was it.

Bill Kubota: 2008, the year Barack Obama was first elected, lots of Detroit votes to be counted then. But 2020 Republicans and President Trump questioned how Detroit handled the vote.

Donald Trump: Detroit is another place and I wouldn’t say has the best reputation for election integrity.

Daniel Baxter: Even with the banging on windows. Even with the chanting… stop the count, stop the count. We made sure that every individual felt comfortable working down there during the 2020 presidential election.

Detroit Free Press: And as you can see right now, we’ve got several police officers heading out there on the floor.

Bill Kubota: Baxter said that despite the turmoil, the inspectors will be back this election cycle.

David Nathan, Elections Trainer, City of Detroit: You all excited about this election?

Speaker 4: Yeah.

David Nathan: I am, too. I think that this is probably these next couple elections are probably going to be the most important elections of our, of our country.

Daniel Baxter: We have a full staff that’s scheduled to work for the August 2nd primary election.

Daniel Baxter: So I want to once again say thank you for being present today. Pay close attention to the training. And if you have any particular questions associated with this training, make sure that you ask that question. We have two shifts and is roughly anywhere from 1100 hundred to 1300 hundred people who work to ensure that all of those ballots are processed. We are going to go through this training. This training is probably going to be about three hours or so. It’s for CCB. As Mr. Baxter said, CCB is Central Counting Board. We count all the absentee ballots for the city of Detroit.

Daniel Baxter: We stand on the fence, if you will, in terms of engaging in this process. We’re not Democrats. We’re not Republicans. We’re a nonpartisan entity who is responsible to ensure that all ballots are counted.

David Nathan: The attire for inspectors is white top, black bottom, closed-toed shoes, no jeans, no Greek or partisan paraphernalia are allowed.

Daniel Baxter: When you go to the polls on Election Day, when you cast your vote, you have to fill out an application and you have to sign it and that application has to be verified. A bumped against your record and the electronic poll book. The same thing is true for an absentee ballot.

Bill Kubota: That’s part of the process that would be suspect to some who question the absentee count and 2020, they didn’t understand or maybe they didn’t want to.

Daniel Baxter: When those ballots come back, we have to verify that signature to make sure it’s the exact same signature that was on file when the individual requested it and it takes time. So once we processed all of those ballots, then they were delivered to the central counting board and it was late.

Bill Kubota: The mysterious late night arrival seen in surveillance video circulated on the Internet, just ballots that had to be verified ahead of the count.

David Nathan: They’re going to take the first 50 out of whatever precinct that they’re working in. They’re going to go through every single one of those ballots or envelopes to ensure that the signature, there is a signature on each one of those. That there is an election date, that is correct, which is August 2nd. And that the precinct number which is on the label, is the precinct that we’re working in.

Bill Kubota: In 2020, poll challengers roam freely on the counting floor.

Speaker 5: Only nonpartisans.

Bill Kubota: Republicans protested they weren’t given fair access. So now a new plan.

Daniel Baxter: So for this year, what we did was we revamped the entire operation. For instance, in 2020, they had to sign in on just a regular sheet of paper. But for this election, they’ll be responsible for swiping in with their driver’s license so that they might be able to enter.

That information will be uploaded in our system where we might be able to keep a count of who’s actually in the central counting board as we process absentee ballots. Each individual will be given a name tag with their party affiliation or their challenging affiliation on it, as well as they’ll be responsible for being stationed at one of the counting board slash tables. So instead of roaming about throughout the entire building or throughout the entire counting board, be restricted to a certain table.

David Nathan: Of course, we talked about cell phones. Use your cell phone to show your COVID test, but once that’s done, cell phones are not permitted in Hall E. Not permitted to be used. Excuse me, if you are… using a phone in Hall E, you will be asked to leave and potentially not pay for that day.

Daniel Baxter: Last year, during our municipal election cycle at the central counting board, we probably had less than a hundred Republicans to engage in the process. This year we received applications for upwards of 800 individuals to work with us on Election Day. However, at the central counting board, we’ll probably have roughly 200, maybe 250 of them to serve as inspectors to help us with the tabulation of absentee ballots.

David Nathan: Now this supply box has everything that you need for the entire day. We have below the supply box, a black bin.

Daniel Baxter: After the municipal primary and the general election, every counting board balanced. We receive kudos from both the Wayne County Board of canvassers as well as the State Bureau of Elections for our efforts.

Daniel Baxter: So we’re excited about that as we began to engage in the off-year election here for the gubernatorial. We expect the same and after this election, we’re definitely going to look at how we can even enhance and improve it for the 2024 presidential election cycle.

David Nathan: So, your section supervisor, your team lead, will fill this document out. But all inspectors must sign this document at the end of the night.

Daniel Baxter: I’d like to add something, you know, I think that the reason why after the 2020 presidential election, nobody quit in Detroit at the Department of Elections is because… Over the years, we get beat up a lot. We get beat up a lot, and it’s a thankless job.

And I think that what it did for us, it built thick skin where we were able to really endure the multitude of those attacks. Many of the folks around the country, they probably never experienced that before. You know, we’ve had protests in front of the Department of Elections, the clerk. So it was almost like par for the course.

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