Some Detroit absentee voter applications were sent with wrong return address

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit city clerk is working to correct a mailing issue after a batch of absentee voter applications were sent out this week with a Texas return address.

Clerk Janice Winfrey told The Detroit News on Wednesday that mailing company Wolverine Solutions Group accidentally placed the mailing return address for Mercedes-Benz Financial Services in Texas rather than her office. Mercedes-Benz Financial Services is another client of Wolverine's, she said.

"It was another client of theirs that they mistakenly didn't swap out," Winfrey said. "A constituent alerted me and it appears to only have happened in the last batch."

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey holds a press conference to discuss preparations for the presidential election at the Central Counting Board location inside the TCF Center, in Detroit, October 29, 2020.

Winfrey said the error appears to be limited to the 48221 ZIP code in the city's Bagley neighborhood from Puritan Avenue to Eight Mile.

Wolverine, with whom the the clerk contracts for mailings, wasn't able to sort by ZIP code, Winfrey said, so they're going to re-mail the absentee voter applications to the last 1,000 recipients who they believe received the mailings with the wrong address.

Voter absentee ballots are expected to go out on Saturday, Winfrey said.

The clerk said new applications are en route with the correct return address and a letter from Wolverine addressing the issue.

"We just want residents to be sure that it was their (Wolverine's) oversight and we could tell by the number of envelopes that it didn’t get far," Winfrey said, adding no election season is ever perfect.

In a statement Wednesday, Darryl English, president of Wolverine, said the company learned from the city Elections Department "of a complaint from a single resident who received an incorrect return/reply envelope with their Absentee Ballot. This isolated incident would be attributed to an unintentional operator error. We are working closely with the Elections Department to isolate any affected resident and will rectify the issue as quickly as possible."

English added: "As a partner of the City of Detroit for nearly 20 years, WSG takes this quality issue very seriously, and we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this matter has caused both the Elections Department and the affected resident."

About 600,000 absentee applications were mailed out to Detroit voters, and during Tuesday's council meeting, District 2 Councilman Roy McCalister urged residents to return the applications in a different envelope or drop them off in person at the Clerk's Office.

"I know a lot of folks may have just closed them up and sent them off, so we just want to make sure people know, I did receive several calls regarding those. Call (313) 224-3270 if they have concerns or to receive a new one," McCalister said.

Winfrey, who has been Detroit's city clerk since 2005, and her office have faced controversies and missteps before.

During the August 2020 primary, recorded ballot counts in 72% of Detroit's absentee voting precincts didn't match the number of ballots cast. When factoring in Election Day results almost half, or 46% of precincts, had voting totals that didn't match precinct poll book numbers — meaning they potentially couldn't be recounted in a close election.

Wayne County's canvassers sought state intervention, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson partnered with Winfrey to bring in a team of high-profile advisers to ensure the integrity of Detroit's November election. 

Poll worker errors in the 2017 general election prevented 20% of reviewed precincts from being recounted.

Following the November 2016 election, Winfrey came under fire 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.

The audit concluded there was "no evidence of pervasive voter fraud" or voting machine error — attributing the problems to a series of mistakes by precinct workers and receiving boards. Winfrey still partially blamed the issues on outdated voting machines.

In 2013, Detroit put up billboards announcing the wrong election date.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed to this report.