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Detroit citizen group goes to court over stalled election transparency initiative

Jun 4, 2016

A citizen’s group took Detroit city clerk Janice Winfrey to court Friday, in an effort to get a proposed city ordinance on the ballot.

The ordinance would require the Detroit clerk to publicly post real-time election results.

Tom Barrow is president of the group Citizens for Detroit’s Future, which spearheaded the drive to make the ordinance city law.

Barrow says the group gathered more than enough certified petition signatures, and did everything by the book according to the city charter and state law.

“There is no short-circuiting that. It has to run its course,” Barrow said. “The city then either has the option to pass it into law, exactly as the petition says, or to put it on the ballot for the general public to vote on.”

The drafted ordinance was repeatedly held up in the Detroit City Council, and never came before the full Council for a vote. So the group turned to the ballot option, and has filed an emergency order to try and compel Winfrey to put the measure on the August primary ballot.

At a court hearing Friday, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert Colombo didn’t rule on the matter. But Barrow says the two sides were ordered to return to court next week, when Colombo indicated he would issue a ruling.

However, Barrow said a key fact did emerge from the hearing.

“We learned, when the court asked the city ‘have you printed the ballots?' the city told them ‘yes,’” Barrow said. “We now learned in fact the city does not do it, in fact this is a county-wide election, and the county has confirmed the ballots have not been printed.”

The group believes the ordinance “provides for transparency, and helps to restore confidence in our electoral process,” Barrow said.

Detroit’s elections process has been dogged by process irregularities and slow reporting of results for many years.

Neither Winfrey nor a representative from Detroit’s elections department could be reached for comment on the lawsuit.