Somehow, some way, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey has been named to serve on an election reform committee created by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
Despite Winfrey’s wayward reputation for Election Day messes, Benson may have decided that the panel had to include the clerk from Michigan’s largest city.
But I can’t help but wonder how Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist feels about this, and why he did not veto this through political back channels.
After all, it was Gilchrist’s 2017 election effort to oust Winfrey that was short-circuited in a rather bizarre fashion due to Winfrey’s own incompetence.
The incumbent clerk barely won re-election after an aggressive campaign by Gilchrist that focused substantial criticism on the botched election process she oversaw in 2016. When Gilchrist sought a recount, a review of the vote was deemed impossible – just as in the 2016 presidential election — because ballots at numerous precincts were badly mishandled.
Now, Benson has appointed Winfrey to a 25-member Election Modernization Advisory Committee to help oversee implementation of reforms approved by state voters attached to Proposal 3 last November. The bipartisan membership includes county, city and township clerks; voting rights advocates; and national election experts.
Winfrey and the group will study ways to make Michigan “a national model for clean, efficient and secure elections,” the secretary of state said.
Over at state Republican Party headquarters, they are nearly apoplectic about this choice. A GOP spokeswoman called Winfrey “Perhaps the most scandal-plagued and roundly criticized election official in the United States of America, someone whose handling of the 2016 race Bridge Magazine … called a ‘national embarrassment’ (for Michigan).”
Yes, Benson and Winfrey are fellow Democrats but, beyond the partisan rhetoric, Benson is a nationally recognized election expert in her own right and this choice is more than perplexing.
If the appointment was based on Winfrey’s status as the election official in Michigan’s largest city, then why does the 25-member panel not include the city clerk from Grand Rapids (the second-largest city in the state) or the clerks from Warren (third largest) or Sterling Heights (fourth largest)?
Prominent Democrats inclined to defend this decision should be reminded that Winfrey’s track record does not consist of minor mistakes.
In the 2017 Detroit election for city clerk, 33 Election Day precincts and absentee voter counting boards could not be recounted because of missing ballots or mismatched tabulations. That meant that 20 percent of the partial-recount requested by Gilchrist was deemed moot. In one precinct, only five of the 145 ballots cast on Election Day were secured in a proper container. The rest were tossed into a box that included supplies for poll workers.
That debacle came after Winfrey and her election team made national news in December 2016 when their mistake-filled efforts were a leading reason that the courts halted the recount of the all-important presidential election in Michigan.
Countless discrepancies meant officials couldn’t recount votes in 392 Detroit precincts, or nearly 60 percent. The greatest humiliation for the city was that two-thirds of those precincts had more votes cast than the number of registered voters.
Prior to 2016, Winfrey, the city’s chief elections official, had faced constant criticism due to malfunctioning voting machines, polling locations that opened late on Election Day, poorly trained poll workers, long lines at voting sites, and numerous voting irregularities.
Gilchrist, who lost to the incumbent in November 2017 by just 1,400 votes, said at the time that he was seeking a recount after hearing reports of “chaos” at about 60 voting precincts.
The last thing Michigan needs now is an election reform panel, tasked with following through on the voters’ wishes, that is tainted by the presence of someone so ill-equipped for the job as Janice Winfrey.