Phillips, White keep nomination after recount

Elections Administrator James Finkley, left, looks over ballots with the Berrien County Board of Canvassers during a recount of Benton Township votes on Monday in the Berrien County Courthouse. The recount took several hours. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Elections Administrator James Finkley, left, looks over ballots with the Berrien County Board of Canvassers during a recount of Benton Township votes on Monday in the Berrien County Courthouse. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Carolyn Phillips and Kevin White will remain on the ballot for Benton Township in the general election.

For close to five hours Monday, more than a dozen people sat in the Jury Assembling Room on the second floor at the Berrien County Courthouse to watch as ballots from Benton Township’s primary election were recounted.

The end result was a difference of one vote for a few candidates, which did not alter the primary’s overall voting totals that were originally recorded.

“I never questioned the honesty and integrity of the township employees and election workers,” Phillips said afterward.

The supervisor and clerk races were close heading toward the end of the night on Aug. 2. Phillips was losing to challenger Barbara Meeks by 22 votes on election night prior to absentee votes being counted.

But once the absentee votes were counted, Phillips won by nearly 80 votes. The voting totals for the clerk races remained the same between those two after Monday’s recount.

Meeks filed a petition to only recount the absentee votes for the Democratic nomination for clerk.

Joseph Taylor petitioned for a recount of all precincts for the Democratic nominee for the officer of supervisor, and Willie Dortch petitioned for a recount of the absentee votes for the same office.

In the supervisor race, Taylor was eight votes behind White on election night prior to absentee votes being counted.

Berrien County Clerk Sharon Tyler, right, looks on next to Joseph Taylor during a recount of Benton Township votes Monday in the Berrien County Courthouse. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Berrien County Clerk Sharon Tyler, right, looks on next to Joseph Taylor during a recount of Benton Township votes Monday in the Berrien County Courthouse. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

White won the Democratic nomination for supervisor with 309 votes, followed by Taylor at 276, Anthony Jett at 203 and Dortch at 125. After the recount, White finished with 308 votes, Taylor had 277 votes, Jett finished with 204 votes and Dortch had the same as previously indicated.

White was not present for the recount and Dortch left after the first few hours.

Taylor said the reason he filed for a recount was to make sure “the voice of the people was heard.”

“There have been rumors in the past that Benton Township cheats on absentee votes,” Taylor said. “In addition to having the people’s voice heard, we wanted to do our due diligence to verify that.”

During the recount, Taylor and Meeks became uneasy after county officials determined one ballot bag was incorrectly labeled as absentee ballots, instead of its actual precinct.

This prompted county officials to call the state for confirmation on how to proceed.

Berrien County Elections Administrator James Finkley said a representative from the Michigan Bureau of Elections indicated that the discrepancy was “a simple clerical error and doesn’t affect the actual contents.”

Because the number of recorded ballots matched what was originally counted on Aug. 2, the recount proceeded.

Phillips and White both won their party’s nomination in the primary election and were expecting to run unopposed in November. Taylor and Meeks, who were among the three challengers that called for recounts, said they plan to run as write-ins.

“My plans are to go in as a write-in because I do believe that the absentee ballots were mishandled,” Meeks said. “I don’t feel the people were represented in this election.”

The recount was overseen by the Berrien County Board of Election Canvassers. The board is comprised of four people – two Republicans and two Democrats.

In addition to the board, township election workers were brought in to sort through and recount every ballot prior to them being fed through a tabulator that is used in most municipalities on election night.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 30, 2016)
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