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Lawsuit asks judge to throw out Detroit absentee votes, as clerk's race remains contested

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A Detroit activist has filed a lawsuit, asking a Wayne County judge to throw out absentee ballot results from Detroit’s election last week.

Anita Belle is co-chair of the Committee for Voter Justice and a gubernatorial candidate for the Michigan Green Party. She was an election challenger at Detroit’s Cobo Center last Tuesday.

Belle says per state election law and its manual for election officials, election workers are supposed to check ballot envelopes against absentee voter applications and precinct lists from the state’s Qualified Voter File before counting the votes.

But Belle says that around 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, Detroit elections workers started using color copies of those envelopes instead, while the votes themselves were tallied up elsewhere.

“That potentially means that hundreds of ballots were not properly processed, and that allows for potential fraud,” Belle said.

According to Belle’s request for emergency relief and injunction, the votes should be thrown out because of “immediate and irreparable damage due to the rigging of the voting franchise under the guise of expediency, and wrongful acts of [Detroit city clerk Janice] Winfrey that tainted the pool of absentee ballots.”

The suit goes on to allege that Winfrey “failed to conduct the election in a fair and transparent manner by concealing her alleged check of signatures on the absentee ballot envelopes from the available challengers in the absentee ballot processing room.”

Belle says the judge should “regrettably” throw out all the absentee ballots, because it’s now impossible to tell which were processed properly and which were not.

“I hate asking for all the absentee votes to be thrown out, but that has to happen,” she said.

Winfrey could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit late Monday.

She squeaked out a re-election win last week, beating challenger Garlin Gilchrist II by about 1400 votes. Gilchrist had led the returns most of election night, but a late absentee ballot surge appeared to put Winfrey over the top.

Gilchrist, who’s not involved with the lawsuit, has publicly mulled petitioning for a re-count.His campaign said Monday Gilchrist is still considering his options.

Wayne County Judge Robert Colombo is scheduled to hear arguments in the case Friday.

The deadline for the Wayne County Board of Canvassers to certify the election results is November 21.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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