Fouts rival seeks state ballot oversight in mailing flap

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

A candidate for mayor of Warren is requesting state oversight of the Nov. 5 election, accusing the city attorney of attempting to suppress the vote.

In a letter to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel, City Councilwoman Kelly Colegio accused City Attorney Ethan Vinson of trying to stop her from sending applications for absentee ballots to registered voters.

Kelly Colegio

Vinson said Colegio’s mailings too closely resemble the official mailing of the applications by the city clerk, and that Colegio has stuffed campaign literature into the envelopes in violation of state law.

Colegio said Vinson is reading the wrong section of state law.

The dispute erupted about four weeks before the election, in one of the more prominent races in Macomb County, in which Colegio, a member of the city council for eight years, is trying to unseat an incumbent mayor running for a fourth term.

“Last year, Michigan voters overwhelmingly passed ballot proposal 18-3 to allow all eligible and registered voters to vote by mail,” Colegio wrote in a news release. “However, the Warren City Attorney is attempting to bully me and stifle voter participation in the upcoming election, presumably on behalf of my political opponent Jim Fouts.”

In the letter to Benson and Nessel, Colegio said: “I have substantive reasons to believe that Mr. Vinson is potentially engaging in misconduct and abusing his public office in a politically-motivated attempt to bully someone who happens to be a political opponent of the mayor, Mr. Vinson’s employer.”

March 26th 2014 State of the City Warren Michigan. Mayor James Fouts. Photo by Charles V. Tines, The Detroit News.

But Vinson said that after approaching the city clerk about conducting the mailings, Colegio used envelops similar to the official stationery of the clerk’s office.

“Of course, she can distribute the applications,” Vinson said.

“Last week or the week past, the clerk gets a call from an irate citizen, asking why she is endorsing Kelly Colegio,” he said.

Vinson said that other than not having the return address or the clerk’s seal, the envelops were “very, very similar.”

“Now, the clerk was upset about this because it makes it look as though she is taking sides in the election, which she is not,” Vinson said.

“There’s a state statute that says you are not to include any campaign material in mailings for absentee ballots.

“That is our issue, and that is what we wrote her about,” he said.

“She’s talking about voter suppression. We’re not trying to suppress any votes. We want everyone to vote.”

Colegio said that Vinson is misinformed about the law.

“Our attorney responded,” she said. “He was quoting the wrong MCL (Michigan Compiled Laws), and he doesn’t have a good understanding of election law, obviously.”

A spokesman for Benson said the office of the Secretary of State has yet to receive Colegio’s letter.

“If a complaint is received, our Bureau of Elections staff will review it,” said Michael Doyle, a spokesman for Benson.