Ballot boxing

News Hits went to court Monday to listen to attorneys argue over a lawsuit filed by Tom Barrow, who ran against Dave Bing in last November's Detroit mayoral race.

In case you haven't heard, Bing won.

The thing is, Barrow remains unconvinced of that. Under reasonable circumstances, there shouldn't be any question as to the outcome of an election. And we're willing to bet that the vast majority of voters believe that Bing won his job fair and square.

It is possible to dismiss Barrow as a sore-losing crank, or maybe even a delusional lunatic, except for one thing: If nothing else, what he's done so far is expose the grossly incompetent manner in which ballots cast in the last election were handled. He did it by demanding a recount and, in the course of that procedure, uncovering a situation where so many ballots were mishandled that, in an election where fewer than 130,000 votes were cast, when it came time to conduct a recount, the Wayne County Board of Canvassers ruled that at least 59,000 of those ballots couldn't be recounted because of what the lawsuit described as "irregularities" in the way they were handled.

The way Michigan election law works, those ballots weren't disregarded. Instead, the original count involving them is deemed valid. Election experts we've talked with before about that say that's as it should be. It's more important to count such votes than to disenfranchise voters.

What Barrow is saying is that the system is broken — and he wants a new election. He's continuing to cry foul, even after Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Isadore B. Torres dismissed the suit filed by Barrow, ruling that the certified public accountant failed to prove ballots were improperly cast and that election laws were broken. 

Saying that he was "astounded" by the ruling, Barrow tells News Hits that he plans to immediately take the case to the next level by going to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Were this an isolated case, maybe things would be different. But there were similar problems — and questions being raised — back in 2004. In that election, polls before the election showed challenger Freman Hendrix leading incumbent Kwame Kilpatrick. When Kilpatrick achieved a stunning come-from-behind victory, Hendrix asked for a recount. 

That time, too, there were ballots that couldn't be recounted because of discrepancies. But Hendrix accepted the results when the recount showed him to be the loser. Barrow, on the other hand, refuses to give up the fight.

As is noted in his court filing, Barrow accepts that elections typically involve dozens, and, occasionally, hundreds of ballots being called into question because of some irregularity. However, it is asserted, there's never been a case where tens of thousands of votes had been found to "be tainted by irregularities."

In the past, Detroit election officials have downplayed the problems Barrow has brought to light. They have also pledged to fix some of the problems that led to the "irregularities" that have been identified.

One problem is especially troubling. It has to do with the cases used to transport absentee ballots. Those cases have two entry points — one at the top and one at the bottom. Each entry point is sealed with a numbered tag, with the numbers recorded. The purpose of that is to prevent vote tampering.

As the recount process was under way, Barrow noticed election officials were checking to see the numbers on the seal protecting the top of the transfer cases were being checked, but that the bottom seals were being ignored. He began inspecting them himself and finding that they didn't match. Not on just a few of the cases, but on "dozens and dozens."

Even if no vote-tampering occurred, that is clearly unacceptable because it raises the possibility that fraud might have occurred, raising questions about the legitimacy of the election.

And although Barrow sought to have the situation investigated — calling upon everyone from the state attorney general to the U.S. Justice Department look into the matter — no one in a position of authority responded to the request.

That left the courts as his last resort.

Barrow and his supporters — there were about 40 of them who spent the better part of Monday in court — weren't the only ones disappointed by the ruling Torres issued. Also chagrined is Michael-David BenDor of the Michigan Election Reform Alliance, a grassroots nonprofit that has been around since 2006.

"There are ethical principles involved here," says BenDor about Barrow's efforts. 

If nothing else, if what Barrow is doing shines a spotlight where its needed, and the result is that the problems that occurred in 2008 don't happen again, then his refusal to give up will have served an important purpose.

News Hits was written by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or
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