Despite large primary victory, Winfrey could still be vulnerable

 

The weekend before the August primary election, three-term Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey was with her son Chad when he saw a rather interesting text message appear on his mother’s cell phone. The text message was addressed to him, and it was from the Garlin Gilchrist campaign.

This is a direct transcription of that text message (including some  irate responses from son Chad):

“Hi Chad! This is (name omitted) w/Gilchrist 2017. Big election coming up. Have you thought about who you support for City Clerk?          #Garlin2017”

“Yes I KNOW who I’m supporting and it isn’t Garlin! My VOTE goes to Mrs WINFREY!!! #dontgetittwisted”

“Thanks for your honesty, Chad! May I ask why you plan to vote for Mrs. Winfrey? In 2016 our current City Clerk was unprepared for the election and 60K Detroit votes were NOT counted.”

“Because you all lie and insist on saying that 60k votes weren’t counted when in fact it was a RECOUNT issue. But mostly my concern is if you REALLY think votes weren’t counted, why would your candidate run?!”

“You’re right, Chad, it was a recount issue, but regardless it was a mistake that should never have happened. Gilchrist is fighting to make sure an issue like this doesn’t happen again by moving voters into the 21st century! He wants to engage citizens in local elections and make city council records more accessible for Detroiters.”

“So explain how that’s Mrs Winfrey’s fault?! Not interested in your admitted lies…it’s a turn off. #imgood”

It’s not surprising that Winfrey’s son was willing to go to war on his mother’s behalf, but his point had merit. Saying that 60,000 votes were not counted in the November election wasn’t exactly true. The 60,000 ballots figure was not an actual but a projected number of ballots that may not have been recountable if the Election 2016 recount had been allowed to continue.

Recalling that instance in her office last week, it’s obvious Winfrey is still more than a little bit upset.

“How do you run for something like this and purposely lie? …That bothers me, and it should bother the public. So who’s making mistakes?

“I know. People say, ‘Well, they lie in politics all the time.’ But when you purposely try to mislead the people, the same people that you are asking to trust you to administer a process, it’s not a good look. It’s not a good look.”

Winfrey has her standard reasons for wanting to retain her job, not the least of which is her belief that she has been doing a much better job overall than has been reported. What happened in November 2016 was no minor screw-up, and she can’t help but  admit that. But in a recent interview, Winfrey argued that the performance of her office cannot be judged fairly by focusing on one widely publicized mishap. She quickly listed improvements that have been implemented to address inefficiencies, but she is equally quick to refute any assertion that her staff is poorly trained or that a lack of adequate preparation is the reason for what happened last November.

“I take great offense when people say our poll workers are not trained, when we’ve always trained for every election every time. That’s more than what the state requires. The state requires training once every two years. Now I’m training quarterly. I’m training throughout the entire year.

“I’ve administered nearly, if not more than, 24 elections. Twenty-four elections. And probably, for every election that I’ve administered, I’ve gotten some kind of praise and recognition publicly. And then November 2016 happens, and they want to throw the baby away with the water. Part of being a leader is to assess what you’ve done and then make the necessary corrections moving forward. It does not mean you just ignore the previous 24 elections that have been administered. It does not mean that.”

So suffice to say that Winfrey is in battle-ready mode to fight for her job and stand her ground, even though she hints that she doesn’t believe Gilchrist will be the come-from-behind whirlwind challenger that others seem to think he might be.

“Remember I ran against Congressman John Conyers, so Garlin Gilchrist? Not worried so much.”

But when Winfrey and son saw that text message, that made things a bit more personal. Gilchrist became Winfrey’s challenger in the upcoming November general election after a surprising second place showing that shoved aside Heaster Wheeler, the challenger most were expecting would prevail. Although a Target Insyght poll prior to the election showed Gilchrist only attracting 2 percent of voters (as opposed to 12 percent for Wheeler and 47 percent for Gilchrist), Gilchrist surprised everyone on Election day when he came away with 19 percent of the vote. Wheeler pulled in his expected 12 percent, but Winfrey did even better than expected with 51.29 percent.

The mayor’s race between incumbent Mayor Mike Duggan and challenger Sen. Coleman Young II will be an interesting race to watch over the next two months, but the upcoming competition between Winfrey and Gilchrist may be the race to watch.

Winfrey said she plans to campaign hard up to the finish line, but what she is also strongly focused on – especially after the debacle of November 2016 – is what she describes as Michigan’s ‘archaic’ voter laws that she and her fellow clerks from the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks have been trying to upgrade for a number of years now. It is these archaic laws that, at least to some degree, Winfrey believes are responsible for what happened in November.

“We [the clerk community] knew that if this state ever had to deal with a recount it would be problematic. Why? Because our laws are so archaic. We are one of three states that do not allow for human error in terms of recount. Don’t allow for it. And you name a human that doesn’t make mistakes. …We’re talking poll workers that have worked at least an 18-hour day, right? And the average age of our poll workers is 65.”

Winfrey said that in the states that allow for human error, a recount can be granted upon request, and “the numbers don’t have to match.” Currently, according to state law, precincts whose poll books don’t match with ballots can’t be recounted.

The aborted presidential recount last November found that votes could not be reconciled in over 50% of Detroit precincts, which meant that voter poll books did not match the number of ballots that were cast. Which meant that all those precincts became legally ineligible for recount. A state audit later found those discrepancies were due to human error.

“Elections take planning. And it really, really makes me think when people who are highly esteemed, highly educated say that ‘she couldn’t have prepared for this election. She didn’t prepare for this election.’ There’s no way in the world that you can service half a million people and not prepare for it. When people say that, I just wonder what their motive is because they must know better. Then again, maybe they don’t, so it’s my job to educate.”

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