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Detroit — A Wayne County Circuit judge on Tuesday denied an election challenger’s request to have all city absentee ballots from the August primary thrown out, saying there’s no evidence to justify the move and doing so would “disenfranchise” voters.

Chief circuit Judge Robert Colombo Jr., following an hour-long discussion in his courtroom, said he would not grant Detroit resident Anita Belle’s request to invalidate the Aug. 8 absentee ballots on claims they were tainted.

Colombo said he would not throw out the city’s absentee ballots or enter an injunction to prevent the Detroit Election Commission from using the results “when there is no evidence there was a problem with absentee ballots.”

“I would be disenfranchising thousands of Detroiters who voted if I did that,” the judge said. “That would be a totally inappropriate remedy when there is absolutely no evidence of voter fraud.”

Belle filed an emergency complaint last Wednesday, asking Colombo to stop the Detroit Election Commission from using the results of all absentee ballots after she contended challenges sought on Election Day were unfairly denied and Belle herself was forced out of the absentee counting room inside Cobo Center.

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 and could have been used for nonvoters to cast ballots. But Belle said election workers denied the group’s wishes.

Colombo on Tuesday said he did see merit in reviewing two legal issues raised by Belle: the election department’s procedure for authenticating absentee ballots, and if it’s proper to preclude election challengers from accessing cellphones and other electronic devices for checking whether someone is a questionable voter.

Belle argued she was denied the ability to effectively challenge whether election inspectors followed the law because verification of signatures on the envelope of absentee ballots was conducted prior to Election Day and outside the presence of any challengers.

Belle alleged this so-called time-saving act gives the appearance of impropriety, particularly if it was discovered signatures on absentee ballots did not match that of the Qualified Voter File. The challengers also were not given public notice to come early to witness the verification, she contended.

Additionally, Belle said the Detroit City Clerk’s Office deprived her of the right to challenge the election by claiming that any and all use of her cellphone — even to tell time or talk to their own staff — was disruptive.

Colombo said he would like to resolve the issues because “they could arise again in November.” A hearing is set for Oct. 13.

Belle said she was disappointed the judge rejected her bid to have the absentee votes thrown out. She’s evaluating her options, including whether to pursue an appeal.

“I don’t want to disenfranchise all of these voters, either. On the other hand, if this vote is tainted, I should be able to get that evidence because that is a public issue that people need to know,” she said.

But Belle said she is pleased Colombo will review the absentee validation process and the “absurd” policy that prevents challengers to access their cellphones.

Detroit’s Deputy Corporation Counsel Charles Raimi said the law department was just served with the suit late Monday and is still trying to digest it, along with the remaining legal questions.

CFerretti@detroitnews.com

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