Poll finds Detroit clerk Winfrey vulnerable

Nicquel Terry, and Christine Ferretti

Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey appears to be vulnerable in her re-election race, although she has a large lead over her nearest competitor, a Detroit News-sponsored poll found.

Winfrey leads with 47 percent support to 12 percent for Heaster Wheeler, a former NAACP leader and Wayne County official, among 400 likely Detroit primary voters surveyed on Wednesday and Thursday. D. Etta Wilcoxon, who lost overwhelmingly in 2013 to Winfrey, trails at 8 percent, according to Lansing-based pollster Target Insyght.

Cynthia Johnson had 5 percent, Garlin D. Gilchrist II 2 percent and Ronald Creswell 1 percent in the poll that had a margin of error of plus-minus 5 percentage points. The other candidate is Faustine Amara Onwuneme.

“The key thing is that Janice Winfrey is very vulnerable from what I see in this poll,” Target Insyght pollster Ed Sarpolus said. “Go back to 2005 when she won her first election. You would see that the incumbent opponent at that time was roughly in the position she’s in now.”

Winfrey then prevailed over longtime Clerk Jackie Currie, who became vulnerable after a Wayne County Circuit judge ordered the state elections director and Wayne County clerk to take charge of the general election after allegations of voter fraud in the primary election.

Winfrey’s office came under scrutiny last year when a state audit of 136 Detroit precincts — triggered by voting irregularities — found “an abundance of humor errors” by city precinct workers in the November presidential election. The clerk said the state audit validated her office, while Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan countered that “everybody in the city knows it was terrible.”

“The bottom line is that Janice Winfrey is not in the position where she would like to be at this time,” Sarpolus said. “This reminds me of Hillary Clinton. Janice Winfrey is leading but she’s not winning. She’s not over 50 percent.”

Winfrey said she believes the transparency and “high level of integrity” in her office is helping her with voters. She touted cleaning up the city’s voter registration files, allowing voters to cast absentee ballots at satellite locations 30 days prior to elections, and partnerships with local schools.

“I like to think it’s because we work hard,” the clerk said. “Elections is not an exact science, but we are not afraid to make changes based on mistakes that might have been made or things that aren’t working.”

Winfrey blamed the November election problems on outdated machines. 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.

Wheeler said he wasn’t surprised by the poll findings because “we have a long way to go” in the campaign.

He wants to improve the voter experience by eliminating long lines on election days, ensuring calls are answered at the clerk’s office, and advancing technology and innovation.

“I understand name recognition, but the one point that I will say is if people want more of the same, then that poll is accurate,” Wheeler said. “If they want to see bold, transformational leadership, then I can’t wait to meet them.”

Wilcoxon said she isn’t worried about the poll results. She is promising training for clerk’s office staff and massive get-out-the-vote efforts.

“We are being demanded all over the city to speak to neighborhood groups,” Wilcoxon said. “We are very encouraged in terms of where we are.”

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