August 4, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Poll-watchers trained for Dearborn Heights vote

Sharon Dolente, director of the Michigan Election Coalition, addresses a range of situations that the poll watchers in training could face including requests for help with translation, spoiled ballots and electioneering ahead of today's elections. (Jose Juarez)

Dearborn— Sharon Dolente stood at the head of a conference table in the ACCESS headquarters on Monday night, asking a small group to envision themselves at the polls on Election Day.

The director of the Michigan Election Coalition was training poll watchers, members of the public observing a polling location, ahead of Tuesday’s elections.

Reviewing potential scenarios such as voter intimidation and anticipating how to interact with poll administrators was important in ensuring the process goes smoothly, Dolente told the group, which is expected to watch polls across Dearborn Heights after allegations of voter suppression surfaced last month.

“Generally, people should be thinking: ‘How can I solve problems, not make problems,’ ” she said.

The training was coordinated by the National Network for Arab American Communities, a project of ACCESS, as a way to troubleshoot potential problems.

Last month, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Michigan office alleged that Arab-American voters were prevented from obtaining absentee ballots. The claims led to outcry from the community and calls to remove City Clerk Walter Prusiewicz.

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 a letter to state officials, he said two batches of applications were from men who appeared associated with the campaign of state Rep. David Knezek of Dearborn Heights, who is running for the 5th Senate District seat in the Democratic primary.

Knezek and Prusiewicz have denied wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the state is investigating the voter fraud claims and sending a monitor to the elections.

As questions remain about ballots that allegedly were not received and even the voting process itself, Dolente on Monday addressed a range of situations that the poll watchers in training could face, including requests for help with translation, spoiled ballots and electioneering. While poll watchers cannot talk with voters, stand behind the voting table or touch ballots or election equipment, their aim is to act as “another set of eyes to see what’s going on,” Dolente said.

Husam Alwaeele, 18, of Dearborn said he was prompted to participate by the claims of voter suppression. “There should be more action taken to stop all this,” he said. “Hopefully no problems arise.”

Dearborn Heights Mayor Daniel Paletko welcomed the scrutiny. “I think it assures that everyone is following the rules,” he said. “I’m comfortable the whole process will go well.”