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Michigan Renews Investigation into State’s Election System

The state Senate began its inquiry into Election Systems and Software, the voting machine company that’s used by seven counties. Company officials are assuring state lawmakers that the election was secure and accurate.

(TNS) — As the dust settles on one of the most contentious elections in U.S. history, the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee is resuming its probe into the state’s elections system.

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, the Senate Oversight Committee took testimony from Election Systems & Software, an Omaha, Neb.-based voting machine equipment company that’s used by seven Michigan counties.

Similar to Dec. 15 committee testimony from the CEO of Dominion Voting Systems, senior ES&S officials testified to the security of its systems, both in Michigan and around the country, and fielded questions from committee members about the intricacies of their voting equipment.

“While the administration of election is rarely perfect, I can say without reservation that the ES&S equipment used by Michigan counties for the 2020 general election counted ballots securely and accurately,” said Chris Wlaschin, the company’s vice president of system security and chief information security officer.

That’s because the company’s machines are subject to rigorous testing prior to being used in any election, and because the paper records of each ballot cast mean audits conducted after the election is complete are meaningful and accurate, Wlaschin continued.

Tuesday’s hearing was the latest step in what started as a bicameral inquiry into the state’s election system in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Senate Oversight Committee Chair Ed McBroom, R- Vulcan, said his goal is to wrap up the investigation in the next two months and issue a report summarizing findings about the 2020 election and proposing reforms to improve the process.

“I think that we found a number of issues that were worthy of reform and further investigation,” McBroom told MLive in a Monday interview. “We have a very old election law in Michigan, and clearly it’s leading to some confusion. And then there’s also the goal of making sure that people feel like they can have confidence in the integrity of the system and the safeguards in place.”

Some experts say that considering recent threats to the democratic process, the timing isn’t ideal for negotiations about meaningful changes to the election system.

“It’s hard to imagine from the current political context that an attempt to make serious election reform toward democratic ends doesn’t get viewed through a partisan lens,” said Josh Pasek, a political science and media professor at the University of Michigan.

During previous oversight hearings on elections last year, dozens of supporters of former President Donald Trump spoke before lawmakers to repeat claims of election fraud and irregularities that had either been debunked by election officials or rejected by state and federal courts.

A Dec. 1 Senate hearing featured seven hours of testimony from disaffected Republicans claiming fraud. And a Dec. 3 House hearing where Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was allowed to question his own witnesses and make a number of unfounded claims with little time for lawmakers to ask their own questions gained national attention and drew criticism from many observers for the way it was handled.

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The viewpoints aired at those hearings persisted among Trump supporters, even as election results confirming President Joe Biden as the winner were certified and electoral votes were cast in Michigan and other states.

And on Jan. 6, Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building as members of Congress prepared to certify the Electoral College results, forcing a lockdown and delaying the proceedings for hours.

The legislature’s December hearings that gave airtime to fraud claims “allowed a bunch of information that election officials in Michigan said clearly wasn’t the case to be widely propagated and believed,” Pasek said. A significant portion of the Republican Party still believes the 2020 election process was fraudulent, making attempts at commonsense changes all the more complicated, he said.

“Anytime that you’re giving a platform to claims, you’re making a choice about what a number of people are going to believe regardless of the evidence behind those claims,” Pasek said. “Legislators have an additional responsibility in a democracy to help provide support for people’s understanding of the quality of the institutions in that democracy.”

Asked whether he felt the actions at the U.S. Capitol could complicate the Senate’s ongoing inquiry, McBroom said discussions about election reform are always intense, and isn’t sure the current political climate will make it any more difficult than it would be anyway.

“Elections are always an issue that bring out a lot of emotion and nuance, because both sides are always seeking to affect the rules of the game in a way that gives them an edge,” he said.

Allowing county clerks to remove deceased voters from the rolls is one change McBroom said makes sense, pointing to testimony heard from Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum and Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons early in the committee process. He’s also interested in pursuing changes to laws regarding poll challengers, improving training for election workers and continuing discussions about when ballot counting can begin.

McBroom said he hopes, ultimately, the inquiry provides people with the confidence that the 2020 election results “can be trusted” and that the legislature is serious about investigating allegations and fixing any issues.

Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, is the lone Democrat on the Senate Oversight Committee. He said ahead of the hearing his opinion on the election-related inquiry hasn’t changed since they began last December — he believes giving any platform to debunked claims about the state’s election system “is a recipe for political violence.”

Irwin said he would prefer the committee spend more time investigating what’s happening in prisons, nursing homes and senior living facilities to get vaccinations administered, or looking into mail processing delays that caused some absentee ballots not to reach clerks in time to be counted.

Irwin said he’d be somewhat surprised if Tuesday’s hearing adds more tension to what the country has already seen, but noted the topic of elections remains “a powder keg.”

On the House side, former Oversight Committee Chair Matt Hall, R- Marshall, will no longer serve in that role. He’s taking over as chair for the House Tax Policy Committee.

Incoming House Oversight Chair Steve Johnson, R- Wayland, said he anticipates the House Elections and Ethics Committee will take up the bulk of elections-related work moving forward, noting he intends to focus more on addressing issues with the state’s unemployment system and government transparency.

“We’re going to have to figure out what exactly needs to be done on that front,” Johnson said. “I don’t expect the Oversight Committee to be spending a lot of time on that area, especially with all the COVID stuff going on.”

(c)2021, Walker, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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