Election challenger suit seeks halt to Detroit absentee vote count

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The absentee vote count in Detroit has sparked another lawsuit calling for officials to stop certification of the presidential election results amid claims ballots were improperly reviewed.

The Oakland County-based nonprofit Election Integrity Fund and Sarah Stoddard, an election challenger, are suing the city Election Commission, Clerk Janice Winfrey and others. According to the complaint filed in Wayne County Circuit Court, the absentee voter counting board at Detroit’s TCF Center is under “one-party control.” 

Poll inspectors count and process absentee ballots at the TCF Center in Detroit Wednesday.

“Specifically, individual inspectors from a single major political party are ‘curing’ rejected absentee ballots — those absentee ballots that cannot be properly read by the electronic counting machine — including transposing the voter’s perceived choices onto a new ballot, without the required oversight and signatures of two election inspectors — one from each major political party,” the filing said.

“These rejected absentee ballots are reviewed by only one inspector, in most cases a Democratic inspector, who then unilaterally decides how the voter intended to vote and creates a ballot that can be read reflecting the inspector’s unilateral decision.”

Under state law, at least one election inspector from each major political party must be present, but the lawsuit asserts that city election officials have been “allowing hundreds or thousands of ballots to be ‘duplicated’ solely by the Democratic Party inspectors and then counted."

"This is in clear violation of the law and defendants should stop it immediately. The duplicated ballots should be preserved and segregated, and no further duplication of absentee ballots should occur unless an inspector from each major party is present.”

Reached late Thursday about the suit, the city's Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said in an email: “The Detroit City Clerk and the Detroit Elections Commission are confident in their defenses; there is no basis for the suit.”

The suit seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction prohibiting the submission of the general election results for certification until election inspectors from both political parties have filled out and counted “duplicate” absentee ballots. 

Ian Northon, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said an emergency hearing was scheduled for Friday.

The complaint comes as a Michigan Court of Claims judge said Thursday she plans to deny a request by President Donald Trump's campaign to stop the counting of Michigan ballots until more poll challengers can observe.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was declared the winner of Michigan's 16 electoral votes on Wednesday. 

Also, on Wednesday, a chaotic scene unfolded at the TCF Center, where there were demonstrations and city police officers barred Republican and Democratic poll challengers from entering the room where the Detroit ballots were being counted.

On Thursday, the Wayne County Board of Canvassers met to approve the beginning of the election's canvass, the process of examining and confirming ballot and voter totals. In Michigan, counties must complete their canvass on Nov. 17 and then forward results to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.