Wilcoxon, left, and Winfrey )
Detroit— The issue of accurately counting votes will take center stage as D’Etta Wilcoxon challenges incumbent Janice Winfrey to become Detroit’s city clerk after the controversial certification of the Aug. 6 primary results.
Wilcoxon, who has filed several lawsuits this year challenging Winfrey’s procedures, said Detroit needs a new clerk who conducts elections in an open way.
“I want to restore integrity to the office of clerk. There is a serious need to believe in that office,” Wilcoxon said. “For Detroiters, we are extremely bothered by the fact our vote has been diminished and it is not being enhanced or strengthened by our existing clerk.”
Winfrey, the incumbent, defends her record by saying her work has withstood the challenges of lawsuits and ballot recounts. Winfrey’s office came under scrutiny when Wayne County Board of Canvassers challenged how Detroit tabulated results and decided not to certify the Aug. 6 primary.
The Board of State Canvassers stepped in and ultimately certified Detroit’s primary election. State elections director Chris Thomas told the four-member board that staffers looked through ballots from nearly 400 precincts and found Winfrey ran a lawful election.
Still, staffers found no seals on two voter precinct containers and one absentee ballot precinct; open or broken seals on two precincts; and seal numbers that didn’t match in three precincts. There were no ballots in one container. About 300 absentee ballots were found after the election that weren’t counted.
The state canvassing review resulted in Duggan receiving 4,300 more votes than the City Clerk’s Office tabulation and 24,750 more votes than the county tally.
A recount effort, which changed only nine votes in the Detroit mayoral election, also delayed the distribution of absentee ballots for Tuesday’s general election.
“With all of the lawsuits that have been deemed frivolous, challenges and recounts, it has been proven over and over again our process is as it should be,” Winfrey said. “Michigan election law isn’t perfect, but we follow it.”
Detroit’s elections have come under scrutiny in recent years. In 2009, candidate Tom Barrow claimed voter fraud and requested a recount after losing to Mayor Dave Bing, 58 percent to 42 percent. The recount resulted in a change of few votes, but 60,000 regular and absentee ballots could not be recounted because of irregularities.
In 2005, a court ruling in a case alleging fraud greatly restricted how then-Clerk Jackie Currie could distribute absentee ballots and applications for them. A Detroit News investigation found that, under Currie, ballots were distributed and completed by those declared mentally incompetent by judges and returned by those who claimed to live in abandoned nursing homes and vacant lots. The News also found that the city’s voter rolls included as many as 300,000 people who died or moved from the city.
This year, Winfrey faced scrutiny for her decision not to remove mayoral candidate Mike Duggan from the ballot because he violated the city charter’s residency requirement.
A few weeks later, a court battle with Wilcoxon delayed the mailing of nearly 28,000 absentee ballots for the August primary. Winfrey removed Wilcoxon, citing invalid signatures. Wilcoxon challenged the ruling and ultimately prevailed in court. But the process caused a snag in the mailing of absentee ballots.
“I do not take my job lightly,” Winfrey said. “It bothers me to no end that because people do not get the outcome they desire (they say) it’s because of cheating. What you’re doing is a huge disservice to the (voting) population.”
Winfrey, a former teacher who took office in 2006, touts creating a citizens’ library, a copy center, digitizing the Detroit City Council schedule and updating the city’s official directory and municipal manual. She also has established an archives and records management division, which is a one-stop shop for finding city documents and records.
Two new voting systems also have been implemented, helping to speed up election results, Winfrey said.
Wilcoxon has a five-point reform plan that calls for public outreach, better training, better access to the clerk’s office through technology, transparency and increased get-out-the-vote efforts. She said her platform includes making the bold pronouncement that she’ll get a 60 percent turnout in her first election cycle.
“I have the skill sets that are necessary to effectively and efficiently run the office,” Wilcoxon said. “I truly believe in inclusiveness. It’s about the business and making sure Detroit is politically represented.”