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Flint,MI—In addition to COVID-19 and record numbers of absentee ballot voting, the Flint city clerk’s office faced several issues during the August election season leaving some worried about that will mean in November.
There was a lawsuit from the ACLU, discussion at city council meetings about hiring election monitors, and most recently, a disapproving letter from the county.
The next election is just a few months away.
The Flint Unity Coalition of Pastors held a press conference Aug. 25 to address the letter sent to City Clerk Inez Brown from the Genesee County Clerk’s office.
On Aug. 19, Genesee County Election Supervisor Doreen Fulcher sent Brown a five-page letter listing off mistakes she claims the city clerk’s office made in the primary election. The letter accuses the city clerk’s office of starting late to count ballots, not properly sealing ballot containers, not having a sufficient number of election inspectors, and more.
Pastor Chris Martin of Cathedral of Faith Ministries said the letter was “demeaning,” “discouraging,” and “disrespectful.”
“This type of bullying and slandering and rebuking by the county clerk’s office, which has no jurisdiction over the City of Flint elections, has become unbearable,” Martin said. “The types of behaviors that are coming from the county clerk’s office, in our position, is just as bad as suppressing the vote.”
Brown also said this letter was a “form of suppression,” but County Clerk John Gleason disagrees.
“The truth of the matter is the vote was suppressed at the start of the election, not the end of it,” Gleason said. “When the ACLU sues you and you lose a lawsuit and they demand you work extra hours, that’s not suppression, that’s ensuring as many voters get the ballots as want them.”
The ACLU sued Brown on July 16, over her handling of absentee ballots. The Genesee County Circuit Judge sided with the ACLU and Brown was ordered to process a backlog of over 1,000 absentee ballots in the span of three days.
Gleason also said that ballots in containers that were not properly sealed could not be recounted.
“When you cannot recount an election, those voters are suppressed,” Gleason said. “But this letter came after the election, not during or before it.”
Gleason said he had no part in writing the letter and was not informed about the issues the city clerk’s office had until receiving the letter. Additionally, he said his office did not make the letter public.
Still, Gleason said “when you see shortcomings, it’s important to document what you can improve on.”
“There is some consistency here,” he continued. “In August of 2018, there was a nearly identical letter sent from Fulcher to Brown. There is some frustration here because things were not improved upon.”
Pastor Alfred Harris of Saints of God Church, asked at the press conference whether every other municipality got a letter detailing their mistakes too.
“There are 215 voting precincts in Genesee county and only 61 in Flint, and now you wrote this long letter listing everything that can go wrong and anybody that’s got common sense knows that when you have an election, something goes wrong,” Harris said.
Harris listed five challenges the clerk’s office is facing right now as the U.S. mail, the pandemic, the number of workers that can show up, human error and equipment malfunction.
“So who’s to say what happened and why it happened? It’s a witch hunt and it needs to stop right now,” Harris said. “And if you want to rebuke what I’m saying, show me the 154 letters that you wrote complaining about what happened in the other voting precincts in Genesee County.”
Gleason said issues that arise during elections are typically dealt with through conversations with the clerks, but that there was “nothing close to what the Board of Canvassers experienced this year” in any other part of the county.
“How could anybody expect another municipality to have these issues? It’d be impossible,” he said.
Martin said this was “not the first time that Gleason has used his office in an inappropriate way to influence elections in Flint.”
“As we prepare for one of the most important and critical general elections in the history of this country, we do not want the interference from any entity, any person or any municipality,” he said.
Brown was brought to Monday night’s meeting to discuss the council providing her with election assistance—something Councilwoman Kate Fields had been pushing for weeks.
There, she announced at the city council meeting Monday night that she would be initiating efforts to improve the conditions for the November election, including retraining staff, recruiting new staff and educating the community about the process.
To Flint residents who may now be skeptical of her office, Brown said she “would encourage people still to get out and vote.”
“We work for the people of the community and I worked pre-civil rights for voter rights at the Washington level as well as statewide,” Brown said. “Therefore this is very important to me to see to it that people have the opportunity to cast their vote and continue to have faith in our office.”