State Appeals Court rules Detroit election can be certified next week

Aug 30, 2013

State workers re-tabulating votes from the Detroit mayoral primary. The Michigan Court of Appeals has allowed the state board of canvassers to move forward and certify the election next week.
State workers re-tabulating votes from the Detroit mayoral primary. The Michigan Court of Appeals has allowed the state board of canvassers to move forward and certify the election next week.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals has reversed an order that would have prevented state officials from certifying Detroit’s mayoral primary.

The state stepped in after the Wayne County Board of Canvassers passed on certifying the election because of a dispute over how write-in votes were marked and counted.

The mayoral candidate who appeared to win the primary, Mike Duggan, was a write-in candidate. Unofficial results showed Duggan winning by a hefty margin over the second-place finisher, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

But the Wayne County State Clerk maintained some votes for Duggan should be tossed out because they weren’t uniformly tabulated—some were counted using numerals, others with hash marks. That would have flipped the results, letting Napoleon finish ahead of Duggan.

The Wayne County Board of Canvassers passed the issue onto the state. And state workers have spent much of the past week sorting ballots from some Detroit precincts in order to get an accurate write-in count.

But on Thursday, Detroit city clerk candidate D. Etta Wilcoxon filed suit, maintaining that the state does not have the right to go into sealed ballot boxes and re-count the votes. An Ingham County Circuit Court Judge then issued a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the state board from certifying the vote next week.

State elections director Chris Thomas admits this was an unusual step for a canvassing board to take—but says it’s perfectly legal. “The law says that if you need to do that, to look at the ballots in order to get an accurate count, then you have full authority to do that,” Thomas said Thursday.

Thomas and state officials appealed to the Michigan Appeals Court on Friday to reverse the restraining order. The court agreed.

Gisgie Gendreau , spokesperson for the Michigan Secretary of State, says the Appeals Court needed to act quickly.

“Tuesday is the deadline [to certify],” Gendreau says. “If that does not happen in time, there is no other recourse to certify the election. It would be a matter for the courts to settle.”

The state board of canvassers will now meet in Detroit on Tuesday as planned. The new canvass shows Duggan received more than 48,000 write-in votes, about 4,000 than the city’s official tally on election night.

Duggan and Napoleon will still face off in the November general election.