(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - A state election panel will have to decide who really won the Detroit mayoral primary after Wayne County election officials on Tuesday refused to certify shocking new election results, which would have invalidated about 20,000 votes and handed the primary win to Benny Napoleon instead of Mike Duggan.
The county board was debating whether to invalidate more than 20,000 write-in votes that were not recorded at polling locations using hash marks, which would cause the result of the Aug. 6 primary to be flipped - with Napoleon, the Wayne County sheriff, receiving more votes than write-in candidate Duggan.
¦ PDF: Unofficial write-in summary for Detroit mayoral primary
Both political camps are now looking beyond Detroit for answers and clarification and fired off statements Tuesday that support what many observers have been predicting - that the mud will fly before November.
The board was split on whether to certify Detroit mayoral election numbers after votes were called into question because of errors by Detroit elections workers.
"The county canvassing board was only required in June to certify local elections," said Board of Canvassers Chair Carol Larkin. "There's very little precedent for us to act on. But there were numerical discrepancies ... that need to be reconciled. And the state will do that."
The Board of State Canvassers will have up to 10 days to vote to certify the Aug. 6 primary election results. The four-member board has two Republicans, Colleen Pero and Norman Shinkle, and two Democrats, Julie Matuzak and Jeannette Bradshaw.
County officials listed a total of 69,933 votes for the city's Aug. 6 election. Without the questionable votes, Napoleon would have 28,391 votes and Duggan would have 23,970 votes from the Detroit primary. Unofficial numbers released on Aug. 6 showed Duggan with 44,395 and Napoleon with 28,352.
Counters for the Wayne County Board of Canvassers were unsure of what to do with votes that did not use a method known as "hash-marking," where votes are counted individually on poll books. The 20,000 votes at issue were entered into the books with just the numerical number of votes, instead of hash marks.
The proper way for poll workers to keep track of write-in votes is shown in a manual the state provided county boards of canvassers in July 2010. The manual shows a sample poll book with hash marks corresponding with each vote cast for a declared write-in candidate. The hash marks then are to be added up for each declared write-in candidate and a total is to be recorded in each poll book.
The manual does not give instructions if hash marks are not recorded in the poll books. However, the manual says any errors discovered in election records during a canvass must be corrected.
"If any of the records are found to be incomplete or to contain errors other than minor omissions, spelling errors or obvious mathematical mistakes, the election inspectors who were responsible for completing the records must be summoned to the canvass to correct the documents," the state manual says.
Melvin (Butch) Hollowell, a lawyer for the Duggan campaign, said lawyers for Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett and the board of canvassers advised the board to count only ballot books that had tallies marked with hash marks - vertical slashes of four with a horizontal line to mark five - instead of whole numbers. Ballot book tallies had variations for totals, some marked with hashes, some with whole numbers, and some with combinations of the two.
Jocelyn Benson, interim dean of the Wayne State University Law School, said there is no language in state law that requires the recording of hash marks for write-in votes to be counted.
"Nothing in the law says these ballots - if properly cast - should, as a result of an error in tallying, not ultimately be counted," she said.
Further, the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that a vote for a write-in candidate should count when the voter's intent is clear.
Benson said the Wayne County board is proceeding properly by handing off the issue to the state.
Janice Winfrey, the Detroit city clerk who is responsible for elections in Detroit, including the training of poll workers in Detroit, did not return repeated phone calls for comment Tuesday.
But Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, who oversees elections there, said he does not understand why the absence of hash marks would invalidate votes.
"I don't think I've ever heard that it's required to do the hash marks," Swope said.
Swope said the process for tallying write-in votes is not emphasized during poll worker training.
But he would focus on the issue if he expected a strong write-in effort in a given election.
"I always tailor my training to what's happening in that election," Swope said.
Swope said state law requires poll workers to be trained every two years. But Lansing poll workers are trained more often - some are trained for every election, he said.
Duggan's team has appealed to the Michigan Bureau of Elections for an answer, and would challenge any certification that did not include the left-out numbers.
Napoleon's camp called for federal oversight of the city's general election.
"A citizen's vote is the cornerstone of Democracy, and people should be able to put their faith in their ballot," Napoleon, who finished second in the mayoral primary to Duggan, said in a statement.
"This is no small margin of error. This is very troubling and I believe it is cause for Detroit's general election to be overseen by the highest authority - either the Federal Elections Commission or the Department of Justice," Napoleon said. "Detroiters need to know their votes count and is not predicated on someone's actions or inactions. We must protect our most sacred right at all costs."
The vote tally confusion came as Duggan won the first endorsement from a competitor on the mayoral race who didn't survive the city's Aug. 6 primary election, picking up the support of former state Rep. Lisa Howze. The certified public accountant said Tuesday it wasn't clear yet what role, if any, she would have in Duggan's campaign or his administration, were he to win in November.
"We'll just see what the future holds," Howze said at a news conference at Leddy's Candy, a wholesaler on Grand River on the city's northwest side where, as a student in high school, she once sold candy in her neighborhood as a budding entrepreneur.
Howze, who won 5% of the vote, finished a distant fourth to Duggan, who won 46% of the vote on a write-in campaign that stunned many observers who had initially doubted he'd have such a strong showing. Duggan was forced off the ballot when competitor Tom Barrow successfully challenged Duggan's eligibility to run as a named candidate because he hadn't lived in the city a full year on the day he turned in signatures to run, as required by the city charter.
Labor activist Robert Davis, who successfully helped challenge Duggan's residency in order to have him removed from the ballot, said Tuesday's disagreements were evidence that the primary election was rigged.
" ... When you look at the number of absentee ballot applications vs. the absentee ballots that were cast, they don't match. There were more absentee ballots cast than there were absentees.
"Either Mr. Duggan shouldn't be on the ballot," Davis said, "or there should be federal inspectors in here for the general election."
Napoleon, a popular former Detroit police chief who had lined up the bulk of major labor and clergy endorsements heading into the primary, came in second with 30% of the vote.
Tom Barrow placed fifth in the election, behind former top Detroit city attorney Krystal Crittendon and Howze.
Detroit Free Press