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City Clerk Charged With Altering Ballots, Forging Public Records

Southfield City Clerk Sherikia L. Hawkins was charged with changing 193 absentee ballots to make them ineligible.

Southfield, MI – Southfield City Clerk Sherikia L. Hawkins was charged Monday with tampering with absentee balloons in the 2018 elections.

Allegations that the 38-year-old Hawkins had done something nefarious first cropped up during the 14-day canvass following the election, The Detroit News reported.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said the Oakland County Clerk’s Office reported with the Bureau of Elections “the potential for these irregularities and from there we began our investigation.”

Michigan State Police Detective Sergeant Larissa LaMay said in an affidavit filed with the court that the investigation into election irregularities began after the election when Oakland County Elections Director Joseph Rozell started certifying the city’s absentee precincts, The Detroit News reported.

The clerk is supposed to log each absentee ballot into the Qualified Voter File (QVF) when it arrives at the office.

Then the clerk is supposed to check to make sure the file entries are valid, according to The Detroit News.

Sgt. LaMay’s report said that Rozell “contacted Hawkins when he noticed that ballot summary sheets were blank.”

After Rozell questioned Hawkins he said 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,” The Detroit News reported.

“It appears that Hawkins had switched her original reports with altered reports,” Sgt. LaMay wrote in the affidavit.

It was determined that 193 absentee ballots had been altered in the system as to make them ineligible to be counted, The Detroit News reported.

The affidavit said the records showed Hawkins’ computer and unique name “made the alterations in the computer system to the QVF for these voters.”

Hawkins, who was recently feted as the city’s first African American clerk, was charged with felonies that include election law – falsifying returns or records, forgery of a public record, misconduct in office, and multiple counts of using a computer to commit a crime, The Detroit News reported.

Benson said she sent Hawkins a letter on Monday advising her that the pending charges compromised her ability to oversee the Nov. 5 city election, and advised that staff in the clerk’s office would have to run elections without her.

“My office will remain actively involved” to ensure elections in Southfield run smoothly,” the secretary of state said. “Our response is careful, measured, swift, and the consequences are severe.”

Benson and Michigan State Attorney General Dana Nessel both pledged to make sure the state’s elections had been protected from “every conceivable threat,” according to The Detroit News.

The officials jointly announced the charges against Hawkins in Detroit and said what had happened was “rare.”

“Voting is fundamental to the very essence of our democracy,” Nessel told reporters. “It is incumbent upon state governments to safeguard the electoral process and ensure that every voter’s right to cast a ballot is protected.”

Benson said that Hawkins’ tampering did not ultimately impact the final result of the elections, The Detroit News reported.

“All valid votes in the election were ultimately counted and the final official vote total was accurate,” she said.

Benson stressed that “there were no voters that were disenfranchised,” The Detroit News reported.

City spokesman Michael Manion said Hawkins had been placed on paid administrative leave.

She earns $101,500 per year as the Southfield City Clerk, The Detroit News reported.

Despite what looks like a ton of evidence pointing toward Hawkins, her attorneys said that it was just a technicality, WXYZ reported.

Attorney David Jones said that Hawkins, who was formerly clerk in Pontiac, has overseen 17 problem-free elections and had no motive to change absentee ballots.

“In fact Jocelyn Benson and Dana Nessel’s own press conference indicates that there was no voter disenfranchisement,” Jones pointed out. “So while there may have been some technical issues with regard to the voter list or the results, no voter was disenfranchised. Every vote was counted. I think this is a matter of something, technicality over substance, and I think she is going to be vindicated.”

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office’s Public Integrity Unit is prosecuting the case, according to WXYZ.

Sandy Malone - September Tue, 2019

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