Detroit council hopeful fights for ballot spot

Christine Ferretti

Detroit — A Detroit City Council candidate is fighting for a place on the August ballot, arguing he arrived at the elections office in time to turn in petitions prior to the April filing deadline but was denied entry.

Oliver Gantt, who is running for the city’s District 3, filed a complaint with the state Bureau of Elections earlier this month and an emergency petition in the Wayne County Circuit Court on Friday in an attempt to have his name appear on the Aug. 8 primary ballot.

Gantt contends he arrived at the Detroit Department of Elections office on West Grand Boulevard at 3:57 p.m. on April 25 but was denied entry by Elections Director Daniel Baxter. The filing deadline was 4 p.m. The move, he argues, left him no choice but to run as a write-in.

In his court filing, Gantt is asking a judge to order City Clerk Janice Winfrey and Baxter to accept his petitions.

“What I am seeking with my filing is to move the city clerk and director of elections to put my name on that ballot in the normal manner as they would have if they had allowed me in before the 4 p.m. deadline. My petition should be accepted, District 3 city council,” Gantt told The News.

Gantt, a salon owner and first-time candidate for public office, wrote in his May 2 complaint to the state that Baxter “illegally locked the entrance door” therefore “depriving” Gantt of his constitutional right to timely file petition signatures for the council race. He’s asking the state to conduct an investigation, including viewing of the election headquarters camera system.

A spokesman for the state Bureau of Elections confirmed Gantt’s appeal was received, as were a few others from Detroit. They are being reviewed.

Gantt, in his complaint to the state, wrote that an unnamed young woman inside the elections office that afternoon unlocked the door for an elderly woman ahead of him. But as he neared the entrance, he said, she hurriedly shut and relocked it.

The younger woman, he wrote, consulted Baxter who Gantt saw “shaking his head in a ‘no’ manner as he watched me standing outside the door.” The woman, he wrote, returned and told Gantt she could not open the door.

“Looking through the door at both Mr. Baxter and the woman I made a gesture pointing to my clock indicating that I was on time, to no avail,” Gantt’s complaint reads. “However, after denying me entry I just stood in front of the door for what seemed like an eternity in disbelief! I felt like I had been violated.”

Gantt contends Baxter later told him he missed his opportunity. He also questioned why the doors needed to be locked since the office wasn’t set to close until 5 p.m.

Baxter told The News that he was the one who locked the door and that the time was 4:01 p.m.

“We adhere to the letter of the law in terms of individuals whether they’re filing, whether they’re voting or registering to vote,” Baxter said Friday. “Whatever they’re attempting to do as it pertains to the department of elections we always make sure we follow the letter of the law when it comes to candidates and voters. When he said that he was there at 3:57, that was not correct.”

Gantt also has pointed to a news article that said hopeful candidates were turned away by Baxter after missing the deadline. But Gantt argues that he was the sole candidate there.

Gantt, in the legal filing, said Winfrey had a duty to investigate his claims. She did not, he said, telling him instead that he could file a complaint. Winfrey did not respond to a request for comment.

The city’s Election Commission certified candidates for the August ballot on May 11.

For the District 3 council race, the candidates are incumbent Scott Benson and challengers Cedric Banks, Russ Bellant, Dennis Green and Adam Mundy.

Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed to this report.