Our view: Janice Winfrey should resign immediately as Detroit clerk

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey
Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey

Motor City Muckraker rarely posts editorials. But Janice Winfrey’s egregious mishandling of the election warrants an exception. 

Americans have fought and died for the right to vote.

But that sacrifice was shrugged at in Detroit, where scores of voting machines malfunctioned, poll workers weren’t properly trained and thousands of presidential ballots can’t be recounted because of numerous voting irregularities.

The gatekeeper of elections in Detroit is city Clerk Janice Winfrey, who has refused to take responsibility for the massive failures that made a mockery of the democratic system and further eroded trust in a fair and accurate election.

Winfrey, who defeated Jackie Currie in 2005 by pledging to restore faith in the election system, was woefully unprepared for the presidential election on Nov. 8.

For more than a month before the general election, Winfrey’s election website was directing voters to the wrong absentee ballot application. Despite receiving complaints for weeks, Winfrey did nothing to provide the proper application for an absentee ballot until Motor City Muckraker wrote about it.

Before the election, city clerks are required to subject voting machines to rigorous testing to ensure they are working properly to avoid widespread problems on election day. It’s unclear whether that was done, especially since hundreds of voting machines either malfunctioned or had tabulations that didn’t match the poll books.

Broken optical scanners also caused long delays and often rejected and miscounted ballots. When the machines broke down, ballots were placed on tables and not properly secured.

Motor City Muckraker observed voters leaving three precincts because of long lines caused by scanner problems. Voting was delayed at Crowell Recreation Center in northwest Detroit because of a lack of ballots in the morning. Voters were asked to wait or come back later.

Making matters worse, poll workers were inadequately trained. In dozens of cases, they failed to document why voting tabulations in the poll books didn’t match the numbers on the ballot boxes. That has contributed to thousands of votes being disqualified for a recount.

At some precincts, privacy booths were either insufficient or people were given tables or sofas on which to fill out a two-page ballot. Some workers turned away voters because they didn’t have an ID, which is not required in Michigan.

Instead of responding to the disastrous election, Winfrey stayed quiet. No explanations, no pledges to do a better job. When people criticized her on Twitter, she blocked them and eventually turned her account to private.

As the gatekeeper of elections, Winfrey failed us. Her incompetence, complacency and lack of accountability made a mockery of the election system, disgracing the people who fought and died for the right to vote.

Enough is enough.

Winfrey must take responsibility and resign, so Detroit can begin building an election system that works.

But that’s not enough. The state or federal government should investigate the widespread problems and hold anyone accountable for disenfranchising Detroit voters.

As Martin Luther King Jr., a passionate defender of voting rights, said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.