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Local Officials in Michigan Team for Election Security Prep

Sponsored by the Michigan Secretary of State's Office, the closed-session event took place at the Michigan Works office in Traverse City, with more sessions planned elsewhere in the coming weeks.

election security
(TNS) — Tina Barton, the former clerk of Rochester Hills, knows what it's like to get death threats for routine election work.

Just days after the contentious 2020 election, an Indiana man named Andrew Nickels threatened to kill both Barton and her family, claiming she had "frauded out America of a real election" and that she deserved "a throat to the knife" when "10 million-plus patriots ... surround you when you least expect it."

Nickels was later indicted by a federal grand jury and pleaded guilty in February 2024. He now faces a sentence of up to five years in prison, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Today, Barton is a senior expert with the Elections Group, a nonpartisan consulting firm that partners with state and local governments to improve voting procedures. She's also a member of the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections.

On Wednesday, Barton came to Traverse City to lead a "table-top training" seminar for dozens of local election officials, clerks and law enforcement leaders from throughout the Grand Traverse region.

Sponsored by the Michigan Secretary of State's Office, the closed-session event took place at the Michigan Works office on Garfield Avenue and was not open to the public or media. Several similar sessions will take place elsewhere in the coming weeks, according to SOS officials.


The purpose of the training session was to examine specific threats to election safety and security by introducing realistic "scenarios." Participants were then asked to evaluate their readiness for those scenarios and discuss possible responses. Agenda items ranged from physical attacks and verbal threats to cyber security and public relations.

By far, the greatest benefit of the event was the chance to connect with other officials across agency lines and geographic boundaries, said Michael Shea, sheriff of Grand Traverse County.

"I expect emotions will be running high again during this election cycle, maybe even higher than 2000," he said. "We need to be vigilant and work together. Simply getting to know each other is a huge plus."


Nationwide, three out of four election officials say threats have increased in recent years, according to a survey by the Brennan Center for Justice. One in six say they've been threatened themselves. Many such threats are linked to the idea that the presidency was won through election fraud or interference.

Fortunately, threats against election workers are relatively rare in this region, local officials said, and they've had little trouble recruiting poll workers in 2024.


For Sheriff Shea, the No. 1 priority now is to increase public education about what to expect at polling places — what is legal to do and what is required by law.

For example, Michigan voters are required to show a photo identification card, such as a driver's license or state ID, when they come to vote in person. Poll workers can also accept a U.S. passport, military ID, student ID from an accredited high school or college, or tribal ID.

Those without a valid ID can vote if they fill out the appropriate forms. However, it's a felony to falsify that form for the purpose of voting, Shea noted.

Not all voters are prepared to show a valid ID and that can lead to "some heated discussions," said Sam Gedman, chief deputy clerk for Grand Traverse County.

"A lot of the disagreements are related to the voting process," Gedman said. "Political disputes on the national level sometimes bleed into the local area. The rhetoric has been more intense and there's been a general decline in trust of public institutions over recent years."


Cyber security is also a hot topic among election officials.

Recent cyber attacks against Grand Traverse County and other government agencies have raised public awareness about the growing risks of internet crime.

Since 2000, many people have posted alarming messages on social media, wondering if election machines could be vulnerable to tampering by criminals or foreign governments.

Citizens should know that none of the voting tabulating machines in this area are connected to the internet — nor are they even capable of making that connection, said Traverse City Clerk Benjamin Marentette.

Even reporting election-night results is more secure. Poll workers no longer send results via internet modem to the county clerk. Instead, they must physically deliver those results. While that change helps protect against cyber crime, it does slow the public release of voting results, sometimes for many hours.


Preparing now for the upcoming primary and general elections is absolutely critical, Marentette said. "August and November will be here before you know it. Forewarned is forearmed. That's why spending time together at seminars like this is so important."

Local officials emphasize that multiple layers of testing and oversight are in place to protect the vote. For example, tabulating machines in Michigan are routinely tested in public for accuracy. A strict "chain of custody" also must be used and carefully documented to protect against data tampering.

Election observers, who must observe a written code of conduct, are permitted to monitor each polling location. Then, after every election, the state randomly selects specific localities for audits of their voting procedures, systems and results.

"There are so many millions of eyeballs on each election that it would be virtually impossible to keep a secret," Marentette said. "Please remember that poll workers are your familly members, neighbors, co-workers and friends. They're honest people who care about voting integrity.

"If you're worried about elections, I invite you to get involved."

Adequate preparation also means "expecting the unexpected," officials said. That's why Wednesday's seminar also featured some scenarios that are less likely to happen on Election Day. For example, participants learned that it takes an official court order to keep a polling station open beyond the normal 8 p.m. deadline. They also discussed what to do if a specific voting site had to be shut down because of unforeseen emergencies, such as a fire or flood.

"I'm proud to say that we are so far ahead of the curve compared to some other areas in the state," Gedman said. "We have a continuation of operations plan in place, as well as an emergency services director. Our law enforcement teams are committed to responding rapidly in case of trouble."

To learn more about election security in Michigan, visit

© 2024 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.