GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It appears that the Kent County commissioner unseated on Nov. 6 by a margin of five votes may have actually won the election.
initial count of votes indicated longtime District 13 Commissioner Richard Vander Molen, a Republican, took 6,838 votes while Democratic challenger Michael Johnston was originally thought to have received 6,843 and independent Judith Kapteyn took 847.
"I was actually in shock but elated and knowing that we'd run an excellent campaign, I thought, good," Johnston told 24 Hour News 8 Monday.
But that first count now appears incorrect.
In a retabulation of votes, Vander Molen was leading Johnston by 32 votes as of Monday, according to County Clerk Mary Hollinrake. The final winner could be declared as early as Tuesday, Hollinrake said.
The initial count was off by a bit because of a mistake at Kentwood's precinct 8. An election ballot box went down, so workers collected the ballots by hand. But when the machine got back up to speed, workers accidentally ran absentee ballots through again when they meant to run ballots that had not been counted yet.
When something goes wrong with counting ballots -- like it did at precinct 8 -- the problem can't be fixed on Election Day. Instead, the Board of Canvassers has to address it. That board found a discrepancy seems to have reversed the outcome of the
District 13 election.
Nov. 6 was a long day for Johnston that turned into a long week.
"It's like a roller coaster and it's not as much fun as Cedar Pointe, because at least on the down it's fun," Johnston said. "You can see that political vista at the top of the roller coaster and then you're down and all you can see is the ground."
Johnston will say the situation is proof that every single vote counts.
"I can tell you it counts tremendously," said Johnston.
Johnston can still ask for a recount. He has six days to decide and said that decision is still in the making. But at this point, he said, he has no regrets.
"If you feel you've done an awesome job, are you going beat yourself up? I just feel sad for the voters, because when it's that close..." he said. "I owe it to my voters that every vote be counted."
Hollinrake said the retabulation of votes isn't yet complete and a final canvas won't be finished until Nov. 20.
"The likelihood of a recount of it flipping in the opposite direction is highly unlikely," said Hollinrake. "All but impossible."
The canvassing that corrected the precinct 8 ballot mishap is conducted after every election as part of the effort to make sure everything was counted correctly.
This instance, Hollinrake said, is an example of the system working the way it's designed to.
"It's so that problems can be caught," she said. "In Kent County, the system works. Our system's virtually fail-safe."
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Michigan is governed as a republic, with three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. The state also allows direct participation of the electorate by initiative, referendum, recall, and ratification.