City clerk botches Detroit election
Board of Canvassers won’t certify votes, state to decide
By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — The Wayne County Board of Canvassers did not certify Detroit city elections that held write-in candidate Mike Duggan as the top vote getter in the Aug. 6 primary. The State Board of Canvassers will now decide the Detroit election.
The Aug. 20 meeting became lively when Board of Canvassers’ Chairman Carol Arkin read the number of votes officially tallied for Duggan: 23,970.
On election night, the Detroit Department of Elections reported that Duggan had received 44,395 votes.
According to the county’s results, Sheriff Benny Napoleon would have been the first place primary finisher with 28,891 votes. After election night, many political observers called Duggan’s win unprecedented and historic. Some questioned the likelihood of a write-in candidate winning at such a great margin.
The Board of Canvassers and others are questioning if City Clerk Janice Winfrey got the count completely wrong.
Before the chairman read the vote tallies, Wayne County Director of Elections Delphine G. Oden explained that write-in results were determined by the number of hash marks (lines indicating each vote) each candidate receives, including those with approved name variations.
Before the primary, Winfrey gave instructions to poll workers on how to process write-ins. Poll workers were to count ballots using hash marks and total the write-in at the end of the column. (See graphic.) This hash mark process is pivotal in a write-in election, according to election experts.
Many Detroit poll workers added the total number of votes but did not follow the clerk-issued and Michigan State Bureau of Election’s determined process to use hash marks. Therefore, the Board of Canvassers could not determine the total number of write-in votes. To only use a number, and not follow the hash mark process, implies the poll workers did not do the correct work to determine a total and makes the election totals appear arbitrary — not based on any additional information.
According to Oden’s report, Winfrey’s staff reviewed the 614 election-day and absentee voter (AV) poll books. Of those, 137 election-day and 42 AV precincts did not have the required hash marks. In addition, the write-in portion was torn out of one of the AV poll books, along with other irregularities, including missing tapes and precinct totals with more totals than the actual number of people voting.
“The canvas was quite challenging and tedious,” Oden said. “As always, staff was quite diligent and focused in their reporting.”
In the audience, Duggan campaign attorney and attorney for the Detroit Branch NAACP Melvin “Butch” Hollowell demanded an explanation for the discrepancy, saying 20,000 voters in the city of Detroit would be “disenfranchised.”
Others questioned whether Detroit poll workers miscounted — there are no 20,000 additional votes — and suggested the early numbers, those reported by the media giving Duggan a large lead, were simply wrong.
“It is unprecedented to issue returns of a write-in candidate on election night. But that did occur,” said Assistant Corporation Counsel Janet Anderson-Davis. “As a result of that occurrence, the media and the public had a certain impression of the result of the election.”
In fact, despite a June 11 law change, the state allowed the Detroit city clerk to report its own preliminary numbers. The clerk did in three hours what takes the Wayne County Board of Canvassers 14 days to process.
Anderson-Davis says the law requires the Board of Canvassers to certify based on paperwork.
“It’s an audit of the paper trail. The board looks at the statement of words and the poll books. The board does not have the advantage of the ballots,” she said.
Oden explained to the board how the tally system is used. “When the election inspector takes the ballots out of the tabulator and they’re getting ready to count, one person will read the name and somebody else will make a hash mark. Then, they will total them up and give a count.”
In 179 poll books, there were whole numbers inscribed rather than the proper hash mark tally, making the number totals appear arbitrary. The board could not certify votes based on arbitrary numbers and no apparent hard count of the tally.
“We do not interpret the intent of the election inspectors, so we counted what we saw in the poll book,” Oden said.
“Detroit workers should have listed all of the name variations and issued hash marks of each,” said Anderson-Davis, who noted that the use of tally marks is Michigan state law. “Because the city of Detroit workers did not put those tally marks, this board was unable to go back and look at ballots to confirm or try to learn whether or not any write-in candidate, especially Mike Duggan, had any additional votes. In other words, this board canvassed according to Michigan law and the statute.”
The Michigan Citizen reported last week that Clerk Winfrey hired election workers only 18 hours before the election instead of the required 21 days. Some believe the workers could not have been properly trained.
“I just can’t believe that this ministerial error is going to disenfranchise a large part of Detroit,” said Canvasser Joseph Xuereb, presuming that the whole numbers improperly written on the poll books should carry as much weight as the tally marks process according to statute.
At a press conference Aug. 21, Garrett stated she had encouraged all members of the Board of Canvassers to attend the entire canvassing process. With the exception of the three required meetings, the board members did not observe any of the canvassing process.
The Board of Canvassers is a bipartisan body consisting of four members appointed to serve four-year terms. They are Chairman Carol Arkin (D-Garden City), Leatha Larde (D-Detroit), Krista Haroutunian (R-Detroit) and Joseph Xuereb (R-Northville).
Legally, the ballots can only be re-examined in the case of a recount. A recount cannot take place, however, until the election results are certified by the county board. When the board failed to certify the elections on Aug. 20, the state automatically took over the certification process.
Xuereb moved to not certify the elections, and Haroutunian seconded. The two Democrats on the board did not object. They unanimously voted to not certify, guaranteeing state involvement in the Detroit electoral process.
The four-member Board of State Canvassers include two Republicans — Colleen Pero, chair, and Norman Shinkle — and two Democrates — Jeannette Bradshaw, vice-chair, and Julie Matuzak.
Public response to both the discrepancy in reported votes for Duggan and the decision by the board to let the state take over the certification was mixed.
“I’m very concerned about the chain of custody, about any issues where this right-wing, Republican-led state would have any jurisdiction or oversight over our election process,” said Monica Lewis-Patrick, who was defeated in the at-large City Council race. “I don’t trust it. I’m leery about any results that come out of that count.”
Earlier this month, it was revealed that Duggan discussed and planned the appointment of an emergency manager with Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration and his Transformation Manager Richard Baird, who also donated to Duggan’s campaign. Some believe the state is already biased toward Duggan.
Detroiters, including Detroit Brance NAACP President Wendell Anthony, also does not believe the state is impartial.
“What appeared to be a write-in has now caved in, as a major faux pas, mistake, deception or poli-trick,” Anthony said in an official statement. “Never before in the history of Detroit have the citizens paid witness to such a travesty in the process of a primary election.”
Anthony pointed to the State Board’s attempt to block the EM language for the statewide ballot. The emergency manager law was defeated by voters in 2012. Anthony is calling for federal oversight of Detroit elections. He is calling upon the Department of Justice Civil Rights division to conduct an investigation into the primary election and to provide federal oversight for the upcoming general election to guarantee a process of voting integrity.
Defeated primary mayoral candidate Krystal Crittendon, who came in a distant third to Napoleon and Duggan (by both the city’s unofficial count and the county’s count), has called for another primary election within the next 30 days.
“Today is a sad day in Detroit’s history,” Crittendon said. “The disturbing discovery calls into doubt the results of the entire election.”