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Southfield City Clerk accused of Michigan election fraud

The city clerk of Southfield was charged Monday with six election fraud felonies following accusations by Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson of doctoring ballot reports in the November 2018 election. 

Benson was quick to reassure the state that election results were not affected by Sherikia Hawkins’ alleged actions.

Hawkins is accused of altering 193 ballot sheets to reconcile the number of absentee ballots that arrived in her office prior to the election with vote totals on Election Day.

Further, original election night reports were allegedly discovered in a trash can in the Pontiac elections office when Oakland County’s Election Director, Joseph Rozell, began asking questions.

“There were no races that were won or lost as a result, and there were no voters who were disenfranchised,” Benson said during a news conference Monday afternoon, standing alongside Nessel.

“All valid votes in the elections were ultimately counted and the final official vote total was accurate.” 

Benson has banned Hawkins from working on future elections, telling her in a letter sent Monday: “it is difficult to fathom a more serious set of accusations that could be brought against an election official.”

Hawkins, who was elected in 2017, appeared in Oakland County’s 46th District Court on Monday. She is charged with:

  • Violating election law by falsifying returns or records, a five-year felony,
  • Forgery of a public record, a 14-year felony,
  • Misconduct in office, a five-year felony,
  • Using a computer to commit election law crime for allegedly falsifying Returns/Records, a seven-year felony,
  • Using a computer to commit a crime for allegedly forging a public record, a 10-year felony,
  • Using a computer to commit a crime in connection with alleged misconduct in office, a seven-year felony.

In addition to prison time, convictions on the charges carry fines of up to $31,000.

“Protecting our democracy is not a partisan issue, and our goal is to restore the public's interest in honest government and the integrity of public officials at all levels of our government,” Nessel said. “There are a few places where the integrity of our public officials is more important than in the administration of Michigan's election system. Voting is fundamental to the very essence of our democracy — the ability to cast a ballot that will be counted is a fundamental freedom that protects the other essential rights that Americans hold dear."

The allegations arose in the routine review by the Oakland County elections officials in the 14-day period following the election. According to the affidavit filed in 46th District Court, Rozell noticed some ballot summary sheets from Southfield were blank.

He called Hawkins, and she told him her copy was incomplete, then asked her to bring all her paperwork to him so that votes could be recounted, court records show.

Votes were retabulated on Nov. 13 and 14. Then, on Nov. 15, Hawkins delivered ballot summary sheets even though she had not been requested to do so, according to the affidavit.

Rozell later told investigators that it appeared “that the ballot return dates for voters were added or removed from the report in order to force the reports to balance to the number of ballots tabulated for each precinct on election night,” according to the affidavit.

Further, “it appears that Hawkins had switched out her original reports with the altered reports.”

Rozell then directed elections staff to search for the original reports, which were found in a trash can at the elections office in Pontiac, according to the affidavit.

Investigators said they determined that Hawkins revised reports “and later just deleted return dates to prevent the Board of Canvasser from properly counting the ballots.” Investigators said they traced alterations to Hawkins' computer and unique username.

It’s far from the first time in recent memory that Michigan’s elections processes have been called into question, prompting calls for legal reforms and more training for elections workers.

Among other issues, Michigan is the only large state besides Wisconsin that allows municipalities to supervise all elections. That leaves more than 1,500 local officials to conduct elections as opposed to 60 or 70 in other states.

Neither Nessel nor Benson would speak Monday to possible motivations for alleged wrongdoing by Hawkins, referring questions about the details of the case to the affidavit. Benson called the investigation and charges “careful, measured, swift, and the consequences … severe.”

“What today’s announcement also underscores is that, in Michigan, our elections are secure. When there are allegations of misconduct, we act swiftly to ensure they are addressed and justice is served,” she said.

Hawkins now faces a probable cause conference and a preliminary exam, in which the state must prove that a crime was committed and that Hawkins most likely committed it, Nessel said.

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