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Detroit — A registered election challenger is asking a Wayne County Circuit judge to throw out all city absentee ballots from Tuesday’s primary on claims they are tainted.

Anita Belle of Detroit filed an emergency complaint Wednesday asking Chief Judge Robert Colombo Jr. to stop the Detroit Election Commission from using the results of all absentee ballots after she contends challenges sought were unfairly denied and Belle herself was forced out of the absentee counting room inside Cobo Hall.

Belle said her certified group, the Voting Justice Committee, intended to challenge the eligibility of nearly 1,200 registered voters using addresses that were vacant lots owned by the Detroit Land Bank. But Belle said election workers denied the group.

“Supervisors with the Detroit City Clerk’s Office deprived me of the right to challenge the election by prohibiting challengers from being present when the signatures on the returned absentee ballots were compared against the signatures contained on the state’s Qualified Voter File,” Belle said during a news conference outside City Hall on Thursday evening.

“Supervisors with the Detroit City Clerk’s Office also deprived me of the right to challenge the election by claiming that any and all use of my cell phone — even to tell time or to talk to their own staff — was disruptive.”

Ultimately, Belle said supervisors with the clerk’s office and Detroit police removed her from the premises for using her phone to call the clerk’s office.

The lawsuit targets the city’s Election Commission — comprised of three members including Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell and Council President Brenda Jones — as well as Winfrey independently as clerk and chair of the commission.

Reached Thursday, Winfrey said she was unaware of Belle’s complaint. Hollowell said the lawsuit had not been served to the city. If it is, the city will respond in court, he said.

Belle said the group intended to challenge the residency of registered voters, particularly absentee ballots mailed to such voters, “because ballots mailed to vacant lots most likely would not have a mailbox and would thus be returned to the City Clerk’s office as undeliverable.”

“Consequently, in the event that such ballots were found to be voted upon, the plaintiff intended to allege that employees of the city clerk, who had access to and custody of these ballots, violated numerous state and federal laws and thereby diluted the vote of the true residents of Detroit and thus rigged the election,” the lawsuit reads.

“Because it is now possible that the well of absentee ballots is poisoned by as many as nearly 1,200 indistinguishable ballots cast by nonresidents, there is no repair but to ask Judge Colombo to throw out all of the absentee ballots,” Belle said Thursday. “... challengers are not pesky mosquitoes sucking the blood out of elections. We’re volunteers who make sure that the right vote is counted right.”

Belle is also asking the judge to refer the matter to the appropriate authorities for a criminal investigation, she said.

CFerretti@detroitnews.com

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