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Joseph Alfonso's write-in results won’t be certified until later this month

The Kalamazoo County Administration Building at 201 W. Kalamazoo Ave.  on a cloudy, raining day in August. The Kalamazoo County Board of Canvassers are meeting in room 105 to certify the vote from the August 2, 2022 election.  The meetings are open to the public.
Leona Larson
The Kalamazoo County Board of Canvassers, made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, meet at the Kalamazoo County Administration Building to complete the canvas from the August primary and determine voter intent for write-ins.

Alfonso ran unopposed in the Democratic primary for Congress, in Michigan’s 4th District. It appears likely that he'll make the ballot in November, but election officials can't yet say for sure.

Joseph Alfonso was a write-in candidate, and that makes everything complicated. A candidate who makes the ballot wins with a simple majority, but as a write-in, Alfonso must get a certain number of votes.

How many votes? Well, that’s complicated too.

It depends on how many people live in the district. And which Democrat in the newly drawn 4th District, which spans six counties, got the most votes. And because the math to determine votes, precinct by precinct, can’t be done until after the election. And finally because first, election canvassers must figure out how many votes Alfonso actually got.

Unofficial results can be deceiving. Kalamazoo County’s election page presently shows9,596 Democraticwrite-in votes in the 4th Congressional District race (part of the county is in the 5th District). But County Clerk Meredith Place said that doesn’t mean Alfonso got that many votes.

“The tabulator does not discern the intent of the voter,” Place said. “The tabulator is merely picking up when a voter fills in the bubble.”

So county boards of canvassers, made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, must sift through the votes. Each county board has two weeks to determine the vote count and what variations on the write-in names are accepted. Some voters may use the first initial, reverse the name or even misspell the name. If a majority of the four canvassers agree on the voter’s intent, the vote counts, but only if it’s for an official write-in candidate whose filed a declaration of intent. Votes for unofficial write-ins are discarded.

“It could be Mickey Mouse. It could be you; it could be me. You know, it could be anybody that the voter writes in,” Place said.

Or doesn’t write in, if they just filled in the bubble and failed to put in a name.

Kimberly Hinkley is the clerk in Calhoun County, part of which is in the 4th District. Unofficial results indicate that Alfonso may have received 1,549 votes there, but Hinkley said some of those votes may be invalid or left blank.

“If somebody writes in Mickey Mouse and fills in the oval and we do not have a declaration of intent, or affidavit, for Mickey Mouse, then we know that's not a viable write-in candidate and we disregard that,” said Hinkley. “And then a lot of people just fill in the bubble because, I don't know, if they're protesting. They don't like any of the options that are available, and they just want to fill in the bubble.”

Once the canvass is completed, Hinkley said official election results will be added to the website and sent to the state.

“Then the state board of canvassers will review that and then certify the election statewide,” Hinkley said.

Parts of Ottawa County are also in the 4th District. That includes the city of Holland, where Joseph Alfonso is from. Election coordinator Katie Sims, said the county’s work must be completed by Aug. 17 and sent to the state within 24-hours, but she said they are likely to be finished this week. Sims also said that while Ottawa County’s website doesn’t include an unofficial election result for write-ins, it will be included in the official numbers.

Perhaps as soon as the end of this week the state will get official vote counts from the counties. Michigan Secretary of State spokesperson Tracy Wimmer, said the Board of State Canvassers has 20 days from Election Day to determine if the Joseph Alfonso met the vote threshold.

The threshold Alfonso needs to meet is either one-fifteenth of one percent of the total district population or 5% of the votes cast in the partisan primary in the district, whichever is larger. Practically, according to the Michigan Bureau of Elections, this means figuring out which candidate in the party primary got the most votes and calculating the needed number of valid write-in votes.

“That number cannot be determined until the canvas is completed and official results are reported," Wimmer said. "Once that takes place, then a candidate could be determined a winner and they could be certified by the board of state canvassers, but that is part of why it takes so long and why it has to go through the full canvassing process.”

Wimmer added that while “you can see clearly on election night how many votes a person has, you don’t have the information that influences if those votes are enough to win.”

But voters won't have to be patient forever. The election will be determined by the state before the end of the month.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.