DETROIT (AP) – The Justice Department is investigating allegations that votes were cast in the names of dead people and that the city clerk improperly helped incapacitated people to vote by absentee ballot.
At the request of the FBI, Chief Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Mary Beth Kelly late Tuesday ordered the secretary of state to preserve all absentee ballots, the applications to get them and the envelopes in which they were sent.
The order, which came shortly before the polls closed Tuesday, said the ballots must be held by the state after being counted.
“Now we can be satisfied that the ballots will be there and that the documents will be there,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lynn Helland, who sought the order, said after the hearing.
The judge also ordered preservation of records of City Clerk Jackie Currie’s Project Vote program, in which ambassadors go into the community and help senior citizens and disabled people prepare absentee ballots. Records to be preserved include Project Vote telephone logs and weekly work-force reports of the project’s volunteers.
Steven Reifman, attorney for Currie, called the order an unnecessary intrusion into the clerk’s power and said the FBI investigation is based on allegations from a disgruntled candidate who has sued Currie.
“I think it is much ado about nothing,” Reifman said.
Meanwhile, Currie lost her re-election Tuesday to challenger Janice Winfrey. With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Winfrey had 53 percent to 47 percent for Currie.
The state and Wayne County reviewed about 45,000 absentee ballot applications and determined that 1,500 to 2,000 apparently were handled by ambassadors, the state and county said.
Last week, Kelly ruled that Currie had been breaking state law in how she handles absentee ballots. The judge ordered the secretary of state and the Wayne County clerk to oversee the absentee ballots.
On Tuesday, a three-judge Michigan Court of Appeals panel denied Reifman’s emergency request to return oversight of absentee ballots back to Currie.
Currie’s appeal accused Kelly of violating due process by “running the proceedings in an ‘ambush’ mode, leading to the ‘kangaroo court’ style proceedings and the ‘witch hunt’ that has ensued.”
The motion, filed on behalf of Currie and the City of Detroit Election Commission, said Kelly lacked jurisdiction in the matter. It also said Kelly improperly reinstated portions of an order deemed “null and void” by the appeals court and ignored violations of Federal Voting Rights statutes and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
On Friday, Kelly held an emergency hearing and said there was credible testimony that Currie’s workers violated a previous court order to stop the ambassador program.
Earlier, Kelly found Currie guilty of criminal contempt of court for defying her order and mailing 132,000 absentee ballot applications to people who didn’t request them.
Kelly made her rulings in a lawsuit filed by Maureen Taylor, a City Council candidate who lost in the August primary but sued alleging that fraud kept her from winning or getting a recount.
Stephen Wasinger, attorney for Taylor, said he could not believe that Currie’s office opposed preservation of the records.
“I can’t understand why a public official would not want documents maintained,” he said.
In late October, The Detroit News reported that Currie’s handling of absentee ballots was questionable. The newspaper found that people cast ballots even though they listed addresses at abandoned nursing homes or in one case, a vacant lot. The paper also said a master voter list included people who died or left Detroit.