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Detroit city clerk candidate plans to ask for partial election recount

Detroit city clerk candidate Garlin Gilchrist II.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Detroit city clerk candidate Garlin Gilchrist II.

The candidate who narrowly lost his bid to become Detroit city clerk says he’ll ask for a recount of some votes cast in this month’s election.

Garlin Gilchrist II lost to incumbent clerk Janice Winfrey by about 1,400 votes. He easily won votes cast at polling precincts, but Winfrey dominated absentee votes by an even bigger margin.

Gilchrist campaigned on what he calls a chronic lack of “accountability and transparency” in Detroit elections, notably the problem-plagued 2016 general election revealed by Michigan’s aborted presidential recount.

Gilchrist says this time there were anecdotal reports of absentee ballot irregularities starting months before Election Day, including voters who received absentee ballots they hadn’t applied for, and multiple confirmations the city had received an absentee vote.

“There was enough confusion for us to have concerns about how those ballots were going to be processed, and how they were going to be counted before Election Day,” Gilchrist said. “And then the results on Election Night just added to those voters’ concerns.”

Gilchrist led returns for most of the night until Winfrey surged ahead at the end. Absentee votes are generally counted last.

Gilchrist admits Winfrey’s office has made improvements over the past year, but says there’s too much lingering doubt about the integrity of city elections. “All Detroiters want and need to have confidence that Detroit votes are properly handled, and are counted accurately,” he said.

Gilchrist plans to submit his petition for a partial re-count Wednesday. He wants to include all the absentee ballots, and possibly votes cast at some polling precincts as well.

Gilchrist says he’s “prepared to be able to finance the recount,” as required by state law. His campaign raised more than $120,000, almost five times as much as Winfrey’s.

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers certified Detroit’s election tallies Tuesday. The canvass report showed the number of ballots processed didn’t match poll book records in 78 of Detroit’s 590 precincts, for reasons that were not explained. But none of those precincts was off by more than four votes.

That’s significantly better than 2016, when the presidential recount revealed that tallies didn’t match poll books in more than half of Detroit precincts. Under state law, precincts with such discrepancies are ineligible for recount.

Winfrey has seven days to file an objection to Gilchrist’s request. That would require the board of canvassers to hear arguments from both candidates before moving ahead with a recount.

Winfrey’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. 

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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