Lansing ballot box was 'out of order' after GOP video shows worker struggling to lock it
LANSING — After calling a video released by the Michigan Republican Party that shows an unlocked ballot box "disingenuous," Lansing's city clerk said the same box is now out of order.
A sign posted on the ballot box outside the Foster Community Center says the box is temporarily out of order. Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope confirmed the status of the drop box Wednesday afternoon, about two hours after holding a press conference where he said the box was secure.
One of two videos released, which the state GOP said was taken two weeks ago at a ballot box outside the community center, shows a man pulling open the back of the drop box, which had a single envelope inside.
The video was taken before anyone received ballots in the mail, the day the boxes were installed, Swope said. No one from the clerk's office had visited the boxes yet to double check and secure them, he said.
A second video the GOP said was recorded Tuesday showed an election worker struggling to close and secure the drop box at the Foster Community Center, according to a news release. The GOP provided a video of this incident as well.
Earlier Wednesday, Swope said the person in the second video is a sworn member of the city clerk's office collecting ballots who was struggling with the door lock. Because the boxes are new, employees are still getting used to them, he said.
He said the doors have a spring load, so they aren't able to be left unlocked. If the door is fully shut, it is locked, he said.
Swope later said when a sworn election worker arrived at the box to collect ballots at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, the door was locked. When she tried to close it the door it was not closing and locking properly, Swope said.
She did not have problems locking the box Tuesday, he said.
The drop box has been marked as out of order until someone from the maintenance department can look at it, Swope said.
Swope said he has reached out to Lansing police to review security video of the box to see if anyone may have tampered with it.
Martin Riel, property manager for the city, was working on the ballot box shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday. Riel said it wasn’t a faulty lock, but rather the concrete poured under the box was not level and created problems for the operation of the door. Riel said he was able to repair and lock the box.
Employees from the city public service department installed the boxes Sept. 25, Swope said. They had limited time to get them set up once the city received them from the vendor, he said.
"I think it's disingenuous to be spreading this and saying our election is not secure," Swope said at the press conference.
Swope said his office is meeting all requirements set by state law, as well as the guidelines the Secretary of State's office released. Boxes are emptied daily.
Jake Rollow, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, condemned the Republican party for circulating the videos and claiming ballots were left exposed even though the envelope shown inside the drop box does not match ballot envelopes sent to Lansing voters.
"The claim there were 'ballots inside' is easily disproven by their own video," Rollow said. "By sharing blatantly false statements in the press release, they are irresponsibly spreading misinformation likely intended to suppress voting among Michigan citizens."
The Secretary of State referred the videos to the Michigan Attorney General for investigation, Rollow said.
Michigan GOP Communications Director Tony Zammit declined to answer questions about the videos, citing the possible Attorney General investigation.
Michigan Republican Party Chairman Laura Cox said in a statement she was "outraged" at the negligence shown by Swope's office and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
"This is evidence that our election system has potentially been compromised.” Cox said in the statement. “I am calling on Secretary Benson to launch a full investigation into this incident, to determine if any ballots were stolen or tampered with, and to ensure this never happens again. I stand with President Trump in his fight for the free, fair election Michiganders, and all Americans, deserve.”
Lansing added ballot drop boxes this year at community centers, fire stations and the Capital Area Transportation Authority’s downtown terminal and Tranter Street office. In prior elections, the city had just two ballot drop boxes.
Voters in Michigan can track their absentee ballot and determine whether a local clerk has received it at https://mvic.sos.state.mi.us/Voter/Index.
The boxes are checked daily, sometimes more often for the more popular locations.
Swope said one-third of the 30,000 absentee ballots mailed out have already been returned. One day this week, his office collected 3,000 ballots from the boxes.
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Mail-in ballots: Lansing, East Lansing clerks mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters
President Donald Trump has repeatedly spoken and tweeted about the lack of security for mail-in ballots, calling the practice flawed and fraudulent.
One of his main focuses has been on unsolicited applications for absentee ballots being mailed out to voters. He tweeted that the election this year may "never be accurately determined" because of it.
Michigan, like most states, expects a surge in mail-in voting due to the ongoing pandemic. A record number of votes were cast using absentee ballots in August's primary election.
Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for Benson, told USA Today Michigan is on track to see more than 3 million people vote absentee, nearly twice the 1.6 million who did so in August.
Contact reporter Kara Berg at 517-377-1113 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @karaberg95. Reporter Carol Thompson contributed to this story.