The Oakland County Clerk’s Office hosted a public election integrity test July 26 to demonstrate its transparency during elections.

The Oakland County Clerk’s Office hosted a public election integrity test July 26 to demonstrate its transparency during elections.

Photo by Brendan Losinski

Election officials demonstrate security measures

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published August 9, 2023

 Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown demonstrates how absentee ballots are tested to ensure there are no inaccuracies or problems reading ballots prior to Election Day.

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown demonstrates how absentee ballots are tested to ensure there are no inaccuracies or problems reading ballots prior to Election Day.

Photo by Brendan Losinski


OAKLAND COUNTY — Oakland County election officials said they are reaching out to the public to reassure them of the accuracy of local elections and to demonstrate their transparency.

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown hosted a public election integrity test July 26, which she said demonstrates the accuracy of the tabulators the county uses to tally up absentee ballots — in-person ballots are tabulated at the local precincts — and ensure transparency on election accuracy.

“The public accuracy test is open to the public so they can come, see the process, ask questions and see that our equipment is accurate and secure,” said Brown. “We have test ballots that are already filled out with predetermined results. We put them through the high-speed tabulator, which is what we use to process these ballots on Election Day. We make sure it flags the over-voted ballot — where someone might fill in more than the appropriate candidates or responses, the under-voted ballot — which has some races not filled in, ballots with extra writing or stray ink marks on them, and so forth. We make sure our equipment is telling us when this happens so we can ensure it is tabulated properly.”

The Oakland County Clerk’s Office has done such tests prior to each election since 2020.

“Not all the communities in Oakland County have an election this August … (but) every community does this before they hold an election. We started doing this in 2020 because the state law changed allowing communities to contract with us to tabulate their absentee ballots,” Brown explained. “We contract with about 20 communities in Oakland County. … We didn’t have to do any public testing before that because we weren’t counting any ballots at the county level.”

Brown said that if an error is found, it is either completely addressed if it can be easily rectified, or that machine is not used on Election Day.

“We check it out if an error is found to see if we can diagnose it, but most often we would not use that equipment for that election,” said Brown. “If it is something we can figure out, like it’s just a matter of the glass being dirty and it’s not reading properly, we would address that. If there’s a significant problem, though, we do not use that tabulator.”

Communities can contract with the county to count absentee ballots to speed up the process and reduce their local costs.

“Those who do contract with us often do so because it frees them up to focus on other things on election days,” said Brown. “Additionally, we don’t charge communities for tabulating their votes. We divide the cost of the workers we hire to help with elections. Those are costs they would be paying on their own otherwise, so now they split that cost with us so it can also cost them less.”

Troy is among the Oakland County communities that tests its election equipment locally and does not contract with Oakland County. Aileen Dickson, the Troy clerk, said that this allows city personnel to personally oversee their community’s equipment for security purposes.

“We’ve always tested our own machines,” said Dickson. “I’ve been with the city for more than 20 years, and we have always done it ourselves. I think most municipal clerks do so. The county doesn’t test our machines. All of our machines at the precincts are tested by us. The advantage is that we can do it on our timeline in terms of testing. I also feel more comfortable utilizing our own staff and having testing right here in City Hall.”

Dickson said she wants voters to be reassured that any election equipment maintained at the community level is also tested for integrity and kept secure to prevent problems or manipulation.

“All election equipment, including all tabulators, are stored inside City Hall within a secured area that only Clerk’s Office staff have access to,” she explained. “All equipment is tested in the same secure area. Only Clerk’s Office personnel handle election equipment, including testing prior to the election, moving and setting it up in polling locations on Election Day, and storing them after the election.”

Brown acknowledged that there have been numerous rumors about election integrity brought up in the last several years, yet she wants voters to have faith in their election systems.

“There have been hand counts, there have been studies, there have been audits, and there has been no proof of fraud,” she said. “People are out there making money off of spreading lies. It is really harmful to our democracy to shake the trust that people have had in our elections. Something like a public accuracy test is in place so anyone who has a question about our elections can come and see how it is tested and secured.”

Dickson said that most communities, Troy included, welcome those curious about election integrity to speak to their local clerks so that they can learn how the process is performed to prevent election fraud or other issues.

“If people have questions or if they hear something or are wondering about accuracy, they are welcome to call the Clerk’s Office and speak to their election official,” she said. “We want people to know they can get this information firsthand.”

“Every election is important,” added Brown. “If you have questions, come to a public accuracy test, volunteer to work during an election, actually learn about the process. There are a lot of people out there talking about elections who have never administered one and have no idea how they work. Get involved.”