Nessel charges three Metro Detroit women with fraud related to 2020 election

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Three Metro Detroit women have been charged with election fraud by Attorney General Dana Nessel in connection to absentee ballot applications and ballots submitted during Michigan's 2020 general election.

Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson stressed that the charges announced Monday reflect the strict scrutiny applied to the absentee voting process and that violations of the laws surrounding absentee voting are "rare." More than 250 post-election audits and several court cases have dismissed claims of widespread fraud in Michigan.

“These cases highlight the scrutiny applications and ballots undergo throughout the election process, as well as the thorough investigative process that ensues when instances of attempted fraud are suspected," Nessel said in a Monday statement. 

“These charges also send a clear message to those who promote deceitful claims about widespread fraud: The current protocols we have in place work to protect and ensure the integrity of our elections," Benson said in the statement. 

The charges announced Monday involved three individuals alleged to have been involved in election fraud in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. 

Only one case — one resulting in a double vote — was caught after the election, said Lynsey Mukomel, a spokeswoman for Nessel's office. 

"The other two were caught during the absentee ballot application processing and never issued actual ballots," Mukomel said.

Trenae Myesha Rainey, 28, was charged with three counts of election law forgery and three counts of forging signatures on absentee ballot applications after she is alleged to have filled out applications and forged residents' signatures on the applications at Father Murray Nursing Home in Center Line, where she worked. 

The Center Line clerk contacted the Bureau of Elections in October 2020 after receiving about two dozen absentee voter applications where the signatures were found not to match those in the state's qualified voter file. 

The applications, according to Nessel's office, were for residents who had not yet told staff whether they wanted to vote in the 2020 general election. 

Carless Clark, 59, was charged with impersonating another to vote and election law forgery after she was alleged to have signed and returned her grandson's mail-in ballot despite his decision to vote in person. 

Clark, according to the statement, admitted to signing the ballot because she thought her grandson wouldn't have time to vote in person. 

The Bureau of Elections contacted the Department of State about Clark's case in April 2021 after there appeared to be a case of double voting — in-person and by mail — in Detroit. 

Nancy Juanita Williams, 55, was charged with 14 counts of false statement on an absentee ballot application, forging a signature on an application and election law forgery in several different courts.

She is alleged to have submitted 26 absentee ballot applications to nine different clerks for legally incapacitated persons under her care and to have the ballots sent to her address. Williams also is alleged to have submitted voter registration applications for each of the people without his or her knowledge or consent. 

The Bureau of Elections became concerned about the issue in October 2020, according to the statement, when several election administrators contacted the qualified voter file help desk to report absentee ballot applications signed with an "X" with the request that the ballots be sent to an address for "Guardian and Associates in Oak Park." 

Bureau of Elections referred the review to Michigan State Police, which recommended charges to the Department of Attorney General in May 2021.

The election fraud cases announced Monday join three other recent criminal cases. 

Paul Parana pleaded guilty in January to a misdemeanor for filling out and submitting an absentee ballot for his daughter, according to the statement. And Karen Rotondo was charged in July 2020 with signing an absentee ballot application for her daughter, who was a registered voter in Maryland not Michigan.

A trial scheduled for former Southfield Clerk Sherikia Hawkins has been delayed until 2022. Hawkins is awaiting trial after she allegedly altered or modified the qualified voter file in 2018 to falsely show that previously logged absentee ballots were void because the envelopes weren't signed by the voter.