Despite Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s first-term legacy of budget deficits and endless corruption, Detroit residents voted on Nov. 8 to give him four more years to prove his worth as mayor. Both Kilpatrick and challenger Freman Hendrix waged an ugly campaign battle, but Hendrix ultimately lost by 14,540 votes out of the more than 235,000 total votes. Concerned with the rampant reports of voter irregularities in the election, Hendrix called for a recount on Nov. 22. Although a recount would be costly, the problems that have riddled this Detroit election make it a necessary step to restore legitimacy to the Detroit electoral process and Kilpatrick’s victory.
Hendrix led Kilpatrick in pre-election polls, and it seemed Kilpatrick’s departure was secure. Hendrix’s experience serving as deputy mayor under Mayor Dennis Archer, as well as his promise to undo the damage done to many of the city’s departments, were working in his favor when voters went to the polls. But perhaps for reasons such as the death of Rosa Parks – offering Kilpatrick the opportunity to appear alongside prominent political leaders like former President Bill Clinton – or Kilpatrick’s connection with the younger residents, Kilpatrick emerged as the winner.
The unexpected defeat raised many eyebrows and brought about concerns of legitimacy of the ballots. Specific problems have rightfully launched a federal investigation of the ballot counts – nine precincts lost track of their 3,000 ballots after the election and did not count them until two days later. Reports have also emerged that nonresidents and deceased people voted in the election. Furthermore, the need for a recount has not been put forth solely by Hendrix. The voting in Detroit has become a process so perforated with mistakes that this year even deposed City Clerk Jackie Currie, who is in charge of counting ballots, City Council candidate Jai-Lee Dearing and school board candidate Mary Faust Hammons have pushed for recounts of their election results.
Both Detroit residents and Kilpatrick have expressed concerns with the hefty price tag tied to the recount process. Kilpatrick, in a formal objection to the recount request, estimated the price tag to be more than $500,000. Although ballot recounts in the past have not totaled such a high price – the recount following August’s City Council primaries cost only $77,000 – it is not necessary to consider the price when such a high risk is at stake. The benefits of fixing Detroit’s electoral system ultimately outweigh the price tag.
With the controversy that exists in today’s elections, especially for a city government well known for its corruption, a ballot recount can only be good for the city. Even if the results remain in Kilpatrick’s favor, the recount will reinforce his victory and strengthen his legitimacy as mayor.
Once the ballots are officially settled, the next mayor must turn his attention toward revitalizing Detroit. The mayor must tackle the city’s budget deficit – estimated to be as high as $300 million – as well as its high unemployment rate and failing schools. Detroit’s mayor, whom ever he may be, will have to put an end to the corruption plaguing the city’s government. But for now at least, Detroit deserves to get dead voters off its rolls.