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Problems with the primary

Tom Barrow PHREDDY WISCHUSEN PHOTO

Tom Barrow
PHREDDY WISCHUSEN PHOTO

‘Clerk’s office in need of oversight’

By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Defeated mayoral candidate Tom Barrow is challenging the primary election results that placed write-in candidate Mike Duggan as the top challenger in the November general election. Duggan and Clerk Winfrey were the top vote getters in the Aug. 6 primary with 44,395 votes and 57,601votes respectively.

In an interview with radio host Angelo Henderson of AM1200 WCHB, Barrow implied the primary results were illegitimate.

“This is not about me now,” Barrow told Henderson. “This is about what we have observed and what we think is a horribly broken system.”

In 2009, Barrow challenged Mayor Dave Bing’s victory in court. Barrow argued that, under Winfrey’s leadership, over 40,000 votes were not counted in that election.

Following his loss in court, he formed the group Citizens for Fair Elections, which provides state certified election challenger training.

At an Aug. 10 meeting, approximately 40 people gathered in Barrow’s eastside office on Gratiot to share and record accounts of observed improprieties during the election and organize further action. Most of the people gathered were certified election challengers trained by Barrow to observe that the polling was conducted correctly and in accordance to state law.

“Every fraud in the world is caught when something that appears to be insignificant is looked into and exposed,” he told those in attendance.

Barrow maintains that in his work as an accountant, he has caught a lot of fraud over the years.

When he asked for eye-witness accounts of voting irregularities, hands immediately went up. Juanita Bryant, an election challenger at Cobo Hall, observed all 144 write-in votes executed in the same handwriting. Marie Thornton, another challenger, observed a man, who identified himself as a Citizens for Fair Elections challenger, trying to determine voter intent of write-ins for Duggan.

Michigan election laws allow that “a group interested in preserving the purity of elections and in guarding against the abuse of the elective franchise may appoint election challengers if authorized to do so under an application process.”

Gina Avery, deputy director of the Election Commission told the Michigan Citizen that four groups were certified to challenge at the polls Aug. 6: Citizens for Fair Elections and Citizens for Detroit’s Future (both organized by Barrow’s team), The NAACP of Michigan and the Ecumenical Ministry Alliance.

Certified challengers are required to wear identification in order to access tabulation zones. Barrow’s team had no record of certifying the man that Thornton alleged to have identified himself as a representative of Citizens for Fair Elections.

Two election challengers noted seeing AutoMARK machines being used to write in a candidate’s name. AutoMARK machines are manufactured by Election Systems and Software (ES&S). According to the ES&S Web site, “the AutoMARK

ADA-compliant ballot-marking … system provides autonomy to voters who are blind, visually impaired, or have a disability or condition that makes it difficult to traditionally mark a ballot.”

Both Barrow and city clerk candidate D. Etta Wilcoxon were present at the public inspection period for voting machines. Neither were shown AutoMARK machinery. Avery confirmed that the AutoMARK machinery was not present at the accuracy test that Wilcoxon and Barrow attended. However, when asked if AutoMARK machinery was used during the election, Avery responded, “We prepared them, but if they were used, I’m not sure. They were available.”

Certified challengers also reported malfunctioning machines not counting ballots. When third place mayoral candidate Krystal Crittendon voted, she was number 26 in the polling book, but when she entered her ballot into the machine the display read number 6. Crittendon says when she asked the poll worker what happened to the other 20 votes, the person’s response was, “I don’t know. Here’s your sticker.”

Wilcoxon was not surprised to hear of troubles at the polls.

She says her opponent in the upcoming general election, Winfrey, and the Department of Elections, had already violated a number of state election laws in hiring elections supervisors. State law requires approval for supervisors no less than 21 days before an election.

According to Wilcoxon, Winfrey “hastily called a meeting of the election commission, and actually certified … (the supervisors) less than 18 business hours before the election.”

Wilcoxon says, under the Michigan Open Meetings Act, you must post notice, even if you have an emergency, 18 hours before the meeting.

None of that occurred, she said. Because of the last minute hiring, there was no way to vet over a thousand election supervisors. On Aug. 5, Wilcoxon  sued the clerk and the Department of Elections, attempting to stop the elections. Wilcoxon said Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge Patricia Fresard only allowed the election to go forward “because it would be detrimental to the overall process” to stop it the day before Election Day.

Additionally Michigan law states there should be three election inspectors for every precinct comprised of at least one Democrat and one Republican. In Wilcoxon’s case, Daniel Baxter, who retired suddenly last week after serving decades as director of the elections department, allegedly admitted they were unable to find sufficient Republican inspectors to fulfill the legal requirement.

Wilcoxon asserts  there was an average of two supervisors per precinct rather than three. Barrow hinted that Baxter’s sudden retirement might be a response to primary improprieties. Wilcoxon called his retirement before November’s election “disrespectful” to Detroiters.

Baxter did not respond to the Michigan Citizen’s request for comment.

Amidst all the allegations of improprieties, Winfrey’s nearly 60,000 votes were the most for any candidate in any race.

While Barrow is challenging the results, some people are challenging the overall numbers coming from the clerk’s and   election department’s offices.

According to a Fox2 news report, the Board of Elections has the number of registered voters in the city at 105 percent. The board’s unofficial returns had 96,000 people voting for mayor out of a possible 538,000 registered voters. However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were only 514,000 adults living in Detroit in 2012.

Winfrey was not available for comment.

Attorney Todd Perkins, an election lawyer, who represented Wilcoxon when she sued Winfrey’s office to have her name placed on the ballot, says there’s great potential for fraud in how the results were tallied.

“The numbers Winfrey has of registered voters do not comport with numbers of other urban environments,” Perkins told radio host Mildred Gaddis a week following the vote.

Perkins said with the problems in the clerk’s office, from certifying Duggan’s name to be placed on the ballot although he did not meet residential requirements at the time of the filing, to leaving a valid council candidate off the ballot and invalidating her challenger Wilcoxon’s petition signatures, there is a desperate need for state or federal oversight.

Currently, the city of Detroit holds the sealed ballots, while the Wayne County Board of Canvassers possesses the poll books. The Wayne County Board of Canvassers will certify the election results Aug. 20. If citizens or other interested parties believe the results to be invalid, they have six days to challenge those results before a judge.

To report other election/polling issues, contact Citizens for Fair Elections at313.922.7769.

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