National Election Error Lingers For Local Official
February 18, 2021
Riley Kate Robinson
Photo courtesy of Sheryl Guy
Antrim County officials Connie Wing, Chief Deputy on the left, and Sheryl Guy, County Clerk on the right, were thrust into the national spotlight after a tabulation error on Election Day 2020.
When she isn’t busy walking her dog or playing with her grandchildren, Sheryl Guy can be found inside the Antrim County building, right behind the clerk’s desk.
“The clerk’s office is a very busy, multitasking office,” she commented. For almost 42 years, Guy has worked in the clerk’s office, completing payrolls, filling out marriage licenses, working on elections, and more. “[The years] have gone by very fast because we are multitaskers. We are always jumping from one project to another. The clerk is like a hub.”
To work in the clerk’s office, you must be willing to always be on the move, especially during election season, and 2020 was no different. On the night of Nov. 3, 2020, Antrim County was projected to be won by Joe Biden by a margin of 3,200 votes. This alerted many. For decades, Antrim County has been a Republican stronghold.
Guy and her team quickly realized that a human error occurred while updating two precincts’ tabulators. Even with decades of experience, the influx of absentee ballots, and a higher turnout of voters, the 2020 election season was a little more hectic than usual for the election staff.
Prior to election day, some ballots were missing a candidate running for trustee in the Village of Mancelona, meaning Guy needed to update the ballot data. This required her to reorder ballots and update the software on the tabulation machines to correct the mistake. This, unfortunately, led to another grave mistake.
“When [we made] a change to one jurisdiction, we had to bring all of those [tabulator] cards back in. We did not do that; we only corrected and reuploaded the precinct[s] involved in the change,” Guy explained. This meant that to ensure a proper count, the entire county’s tabulators should have been updated, rather than just the two precincts that were impacted by the omission. As soon as the mistake was found, the county corrected the issue.
“We worked seven day weeks for a while,” Guy said, speaking of the days following the election. “And then we worked long hours, 12-hour days. Computers and technology are great when the programs speak correctly, and it was our error to cause them not to speak correctly.”
While they were recounting the votes by hand, the county offices faced an enormous surge in phone calls and voters demanding answers. Guy said that she tried to talk to the callers as much as she could and only ever hung up on someone once. “We still had people coming in and wanting to know why and what and where, when we were still trying to put it together ourselves.” They were also performing the recounts on top of their normal duties, leading to those long work days.
Guy expressed their thankfulness toward those who were understanding of the situation. “Some of the highs of this experience were those that listened and took the time to understand the errors that occurred and the struggles we had to correct them.”
Although the error never impacted the county or state’s official results, people were still quick to call the county’s officials out and accuse them of committing voter fraud. Thousands of calls and messages were sent to the county offices, calling Guy and her staff names and questioning their positions. However, many of these callers were from national voters, and Guy said she was never too concerned about the empty threats. “I had gotten a lot of heat, but a majority of those people are not from around here.”
Antrim County, and specifically Sheryl Guy, became a household name across the nation shortly after the election. Former President Donald Trump and the Republican party used the county’s error as evidence of widespread voter fraud and the unreliability of Dominion voting machines. In a speech on voter fraud on Dec. 2, Trump referenced Antrim County, stating, “In one Michigan county, as an example, that used Dominion systems, they found that nearly 6,000 votes had been wrongly switched from Trump to Biden. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is what we caught. How many didn’t we catch?”
Although Guy and other local officials had accepted responsibility almost a month prior, the leadership of her own party misrepresented the truth of the situation and used it to create a story of a stolen election. Despite a hand-count in December with the county being well within the margin of error, showing only a 0.07% error rate (the tally was off by 12 ballots), the story of fraud continued.
In terms of the future of the Republican party, Guy feels as though there is a strong separation between the radical members of the party, as were seen in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, and the general Republicans.
“It isn’t the Republican party of 30 years ago, and I do not know how you streamline and break off those radical groups.The Republican party as it was is not radical. These groups do not act like the party. Your general Republican is not like that; they do not look for the bad in everybody.”
While Guy said she feels that she has to look over her back a bit more, she also commented that she has been shown an incredible amount of support.
With a population of more than 23,000, Antrim County is a close-knit community, which is one thing that Guy, who was born and raised in Bellaire, enjoys about living and working in the area. “I went to school in Bellaire. I graduated on a Friday and came to work on that Monday, and this is where I’ve been. I like the small-town, friendly people.”
Despite being placed under a national lens, Guy said she learned a lot from the experience. “I learned that you have to defend yourself, and you have to defend yourself because there will always be doubters out there. You just have to keep going on. What doesn’t break you makes you stronger, and we are all human.”
Aside from having a few more people on staff for election night, the office will ensure that locals and schools get their proposals in sooner to eliminate the possibility of last-minute changes. She hopes that once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, she and her staff can receive more training on the election software.
Moving forward, Guy feels as though Antrim County will be watched closely for a while, and the pressure they feel as a staff will remain.