August 2, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Advocacy groups to monitor polls in Dearborn Heights

Leaders of adovacy groups including seated from The Rev. Charles Williams, II, of Detroit, president of the Detroit Michigan Chapter of the National Action Network; CAIR Michigan executive director Dawud Walid, 42, of Detroit; and director of ADC Michigan Fatina Abdrabboh, of Dearborn hold a press conference Saturday outside Dearborn Heights City Hall to announce they would provide poll monitors and a hotline to report complications during the primary election after allegations of voter suppression. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)

Dearborn Heights— Advocacy groups said Saturday they would provide poll monitors and a hotline to report complications during the primary election after allegations of voter suppression in Dearborn Heights.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and other coalition groups have set up a hotline, (866) OUR-VOTE, voters can call if there are any problems on Election Day on Tuesday. The move comes after advocates say they have lost faith in the state government to handle the claims of voter suppression.

“Sadly, and what seems to be the case today, the number one response historically to valid claims of voter suppression is the all-too-common story of voter fraud,” ADC Michigan director Fatina Abdrabboh said at a press conference outside the Dearborn Heights city hall. “The claims of voter fraud were levied just yesterday, and weeks after the claims were brought to the ADC office.”

City Clerk Walter Prusiewicz issued a statement Saturday in response to the allegations against him.

“I will not comment further on any of these attacks that have been made against me except to say that I have done nothing wrong and I welcome any oversight by the state of my actions and the upcoming election and any investigation into my conduct at city clerk,” his statement said. “I have nothing to hide and I firmly believe that any investigation will conclude that I did nothing more than properly discharge my duties as the Dearborn Heights city clerk.”

A letter from Sally Williams, director of the Election Liaison Division at the Michigan Bureau of Elections, addressing the concerns of the ADC and other groups was issued Friday. In the letter, Williams says it is “not possible for us to confirm whether violations have occurred.”

“While the clerk indicates that there have been delays in processing due to the large numbers of applications that have been delivered in multiple batches, he contends that ballots for all eligible voters who requested (absentee voter) ballots have been distributed,” the letter says.

Last week, the ADC’s Michigan office said Arab-American voters were prevented from obtaining absentee ballots. The claims sparked outrage from the community and calls to remove Prusiewicz. ADC Michigan also is seeking an investigation.

This week, Prusiewicz reported to the state attorney general, Michigan Bureau of Elections and the Wayne County prosecutor what he described as potential voter fraud and campaign irregularities involving about 250 absentee ballot applications dropped off at his office. In the letter, he said both batches were from men who appeared associated with the campaign of state Rep. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, who is running for the 5th Senate District seat in Tuesday's Democratic primary. Prusiewicz also acknowledged that the applicants "appear to be of Arab American descent."

It is illegal to solicit voters to fill out absentee ballot applications in the same manner voter registration drives are conducted, state officials said.

Based on the information presented by ADC Michigan and Prusiewicz, "it appears clear that hundreds of (absentee voter) ballot requests have been illegally handled, solicited from voters, and submitted to the clerk's office by a small number of individuals," Williams wrote in her letter Friday. "The investigation of these issues is ongoing and may result in criminal charges against those involved."

Williams also said the bureau would have staff monitor part of the election in the city on Tuesday and takes any allegations of wrongdoing "very seriously." Clear violations would be referred to the attorney general or other appropriate authorities, she wrote.

Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, has said state officials were reviewing Prusiewicz's complaint.

Knezek issued a statement denying his campaign's involvement and said the clerk's allegations were "an attempt to damage my credibility on the eve of a major election." He added Friday that he welcomes an investigation and "I look forward to cooperating every step of the way."

Meanwhile, civil rights and advocacy groups remain wary of alleged discrimination and are asking federal authorities to take action.

On Saturday, Abdrabboh was joined by Dawud Walid, director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nabih Ayad, chair of the Arab-American Civil Rights League, Bishop Walter Starghill, from the Western Wayne branch of the NAACP, and community members who say they have been denied the opportunity to vote.

“My husband and I submitted for our absentee ballots two weeks ago,” said Lola Elzein, “I got mine in two days — note my name is Lola — while my husband Wissam hasn’t still hasn’t received his.”

The two are going out of town tomorrow, which means her husband will not have an opportunity to vote in the election, she said.

Angela Moughni, a 13-year resident of Dearborn Heights, voted absentee five minutes before the press conference began Saturday. Prior to that, she had received a letter saying her signature on her petition for an absentee voter ballot did not match city records, so she was denied. Her mother, who also tried to get an absentee ballot, received a similar letter, except that hers said her address did not match the one the city has on file. The family has not moved from their house and her mother has voted in plenty of other elections in the past with the same address, said Moughani.

“You just start to have doubts about what is going on, said Moughni. “You just don’t expect this to happen today. It’s 2014, you’d think we be beyond this.”

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