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Arab American group wants investigation into Dearborn Heights city clerk

straight-party voting
Lars Plougmann
Creative Commons
The Secretary of State says 95.5% of eligible voters are registered

Update: we've now obtained the city clerk's (now rescinded) resignation letter from July 22, and we've updated the story to include the information it provides. 

Something “fishy” is going on at the Dearborn Heights city clerk's office.

That's how the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee puts it.

They say they're getting dozens of complaints from Arab Americans who tried to get absentee ballots in Dearborn Heights – and ran into trouble at the city clerk’s office.

Fatina Abdrabboh is the legal director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Michigan.  

She says the complaints range from being told that the clerk’s office didn't have to provide them a ballot, or that the ballots would be sent out at the clerk's discretion...while others say their ballots just didn't arrive in the mail.

"And with the August 5th primaries coming up, one tip led to the next, and it became apparent to Arab American citizens that they had not received their ballots in the mail,” says Abdrabboh.

The committee has asked the state's Attorney General or another third party, like the FBI, to investigate.

City clerk resigned,  citing office rife with "drama and conflict"

The Dearborn Heights clerk's office did not return our request for comment.

But you can glean something about the way his office functions (or rather, fails to function) from his July 22 letter of resignation.

Walter J. Prusiewicz has reportedly decided to stay on, however, and fulfill his term.

In his letter, however, he said:

"...Very recent events have finally convinced me that I will never be accepted as the Clerk and this job will never get any better. I had so many plans and hopes for the office and the city, but I now know that these hopes are all in vain." 

He goes on to cite a list of four reasons, including an work environment of "drama and conflict," in which "several of the clerical staff at city hall do not speak to me and bad mouth me at every opportunity." 

Prusiewicz says that atmosphere is what forced one qualified employee to quit and another candidate to turn the job down. 

He says he is one of two full time employees in the office.

Could the chaos of the clerk's office be to blame? 

As to the allegations of discrimination, the letter contains the following:

"Last week two batches of several hundred absentee ballot applications were dropped off at my office while I was not in the front office to receive them. None of them were signed as required by law by the person dropping them off and the office staff did not get the person's name who brought them in.

"As also required by law, I reported this to the state and asked for their guidance. I was told to hold off issuing the ballots until a determination could be made. I received a call back and was informed to issue them since we did accept them unsigned, but to not accept any more unsigned in the future and to ask anyone dropping off bulk applications for their identification...."

"With that said, a gentleman came in to the city hall yesterday and loudly proclaimed that he heard I was suppressing the Arab vote...When I arrived, it was an ugly scene with him accusing me of wanting the Polish candidate to win and not issuing ballots to Arab Americans...Councilman Berry was kind enough to come to my defense and tried to mitigate this issue and explain what had really happened..."

We'll check in with the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee this week to see if more of the people who submitted absentee ballot applications have received theirs. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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