(CN) – Michigan’s top prosecutor said Monday that a city clerk in a Detroit suburb altered records tied to absentee ballots cast in last year’s general election to make it look like they did not have valid signatures.
Southfield City Clerk Sherikia Hawkins, 38, was arraigned Monday morning on six felony counts including falsifying election records, forgery of a public record and misconduct in office.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, both Democrats, announced the charges in Detroit on Monday afternoon.
They said they brought the charges against Hawkins, a Democrat, after the Oakland County clerk’s office noticed irregularities in the voting records as it tried to certify Southfield’s absentee ballots. Michigan State Police investigated and concluded that the city’ election records had been changed.
“When we took office, both Secretary Benson and I committed to doing everything in our power to make sure that Michigan’s elections were safe from every conceivable threat,” Nessel said at the press conference in her office. “That commitment to the people of this state includes taking swift and decisive action whenever a public official fails to fulfill the important role that he or she plays protecting the integrity of our elections.”
Benson said at the press conference that Hawkins’ alleged conduct did not alter the result of the election. In a Monday letter, Benson ordered Hawkins to refrain from overseeing an upcoming city election on Nov. 5.
“While the criminal charges you currently face could eventually be resolved in your favor, it is difficult to fathom a more serious set of accusations that could be brought against an election official,” Benson wrote in the three-page letter.
Hawkins was elected as city clerk in 2017 and was the first African-American to hold the post, according to a biography on the city of Southfield website.
“Today’s allegations are serious,” Benson said at the press conference. “They involve unauthorized and inaccurate changes which were made to the list of voters who cast absentee ballots. But I want to be clear, the allegations that the Southfield clerk falsified official election records did not alter the outcome of any election.”
According to the criminal complaint filed at the 46th District Court in Southfield, Hawkins tampered with 193 records for absentee ballots that had been logged into an online poll book. The state alleges that Hawkins marked these records as having no signature. The state asserts that Hawkins committed election fraud by tampering with records that in each instance had valid names and addresses.
When physical ballots do not match the number recorded in the online poll book, that spurs a recount. If they still do not add up, the county clerk’s office steps in to do an audit to determine why, the complaint states.
On Nov. 9, 2018, Oakland County Election Director Joseph Rozell told Hawkins to bring the ballot containers in from her precincts so they could be certified. A four-page affidavit says it appeared that Hawkins had added or removed voter records from a revised report to “force the reports to balance to the number of ballots tabulated for each precinct on election night.” Hawkins’ original report was later found in a trash can at an election office in Pontiac, according to the complaint.
Hawkins was given a $15,000 personal bond, according to Nessel’s office. Judge Michelle Friedman Appel has set a probable cause hearing for Sept. 30. Hawkins was only arraigned and did not enter a plea, according to her office, which said she was now on administrative leave.