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Michigan City Clerk Charged with Altering Ballots in 2018 Midterms

(Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Sherikia Hawkins was charged Monday with six felony counts for allegedly altering absentee ballots during the November 2018 election in her capacity as city clerk for the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Mich.

Hawkins, a 38-year-old registered Democrat, stands accused of altering 193 absentee ballots. She was arraigned Monday in Southfield on charges including falsifying returns or records, forgery of a public record, misconduct in office, and multiple counts of using a computer to commit a crime. She was released on $15,000 bond.

The alleged misconduct was discovered after the Oakland County Clerk’s Office noticed that 193 voter files had been changed to reflect that the voters failed to include a valid signature or return date, when all of the implicated voters had in fact included both items. The county clerk’s office later discovered the original voter files in the trash at the election-division office. The Michigan State Police then launched an investigation that resulted in Hawkins’s arrest.

In a statement announcing the charges, Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel and secretary of state Jocelyn Benson, both of whom are Democrats, stressed that Hawkins’s behavior was anomalous and did not affect any election outcomes.

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

Hawkins, who makes $101,500 per year, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of her trial.

The Michigan Democratic party honored Hawkins this year with the prestigious Dingell/Levin award at its annual Legacy Dinner in Detroit, and she was included in the Michigan Chronicle‘s “40 under 40” list in 2017.

Hawkins, who has overseen a total of 16 elections in Oakland County, began working in government in 2010 as deputy city clerk for the city of Pontiac, according to her LinkedIn profile. She was serving as the Pontiac city clerk when Democrat Gary Peters won a very tight congressional race against Republican Rocky Raczkowski in the state’s ninth congressional district in November 2010, the same election cycle that Republicans overwhelmingly reclaimed the House majority. Peters, who has has since been elected to the Senate, bested Raczkowski by just 6,405 votes out of a total 245,055 cast.

Michigan Rising Action, a local branch of the conservative advocacy group American Rising, is now calling for a sweeping investigation into all of the elections that Hawkins has overseen in her nearly ten-year career.

“The charges against Ms. Hawkins are extremely troubling and must be fully investigated. The integrity of our elections is essential to the protection of our constitutional rights and individual liberty. Michigan Rising Action is calling for a full audit of every election that Ms. Hawkins oversaw in her capacity as an elections official,” Tori Sachs, the group’s executive director, told National Review.

The group hopes to see the Michigan board of elections appoint an independent auditor to examine the entirety of Hawkins’s professional record to ensure that previous election results weren’t tainted.

Secretary of State Benson described Hawkins’s misconduct as “rare” in comments to reporters on Monday. While Hawkins’s brazenly fraudulent tactics may constitute a rarity, Detroit and its surrounding suburbs have experienced multiple instances of electoral incompetence and possible fraud in recent years.

Detroit city clerk Janice Winfrey’s office was audited by the state in 2017 after elections supervisors discovered discrepancies between ballot boxes and voting totals in nearly 60 percent of the city’s precincts. One year earlier, during the 2016 presidential election cycle, voting machines in more than one-third of Detroit’s precincts registered more votes than the number of registered voters in those precincts.

The Michigan secretary of state’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the opening of a probe into the elections Hawkins previously managed.

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