Challenger wants Detroit’s absentee ballots tossed

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — An election challenger is asking a Wayne County Circuit judge to throw out absentee ballots filed in last week’s general election alleging they were unlawfully counted.

Anita Belle of the Voter Justice Committee sued Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey on Friday alleging that election officials violated Michigan law when they tallied absentee ballots envelopes before ensuring signatures on the ballot envelopes and absentee ballot applications matched.

Belle said in a release that she and other challengers witnessed election workers using color copies of absentee ballot envelopes to compare signatures while votes were counted elsewhere.

Michigan law, she says, requires the “signature on the absentee ballot envelope be matched against the signature on the voter’s registration AND the signature on the absentee ballot application.”

Her lawsuit seeks an emergency injunction that would prevent the Wayne County Board of Canvassers from including the absentee ballots in the certified election results. The board has 14 days to certify results following an election.

“I don’t like asking a judge to throw out absentee ballots, especially in a case filed on the eve of Veteran’s Day,” Belle said in a statement. “Active duty military personnel and senior citizens vote absentee. However, the freedom that the soldiers are fighting for is being taken away at home when election officials improperly process ballots. Ballots that are not processed correctly risk ballot stuffing, a form of election-rigging.”

Winfrey could not be reached for comment on Tuesday evening.

Belle is no stranger to litigation with Detroit elections.

In August, she filed a complaint asking that absentee ballots be tossed, saying election challenges were unfairly denied and Belle herself was forced out of the absentee counting room inside Cobo Hall. Chief Circuit Judge Robert Colombo Jr. ultimately denied her request.

Her most recent lawsuit came a few days after Garlin Gilchrist announced he was considering filing an election recount amid hearing “troubling accounts” from voters.

Winfrey narrowly defeated Gilchrist in the city clerk election by about 1,400 votes. Her victory came after trailing most of the election night before a surge in absentee ballots pulled her ahead.

Winfrey, a former middle school math teacher, came under fire in 2016 when the Michigan Bureau of Elections audited 136 of the city’s most irregular precincts — “the worst of the worst,” it said — after a Wayne County canvass showed “significant discrepancies” in the number of voters and ballots in 392 Detroit precincts.

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Twitter: @NicquelTerry