MT. CLEMENS, Mich. (CN) – A Michigan judge ruled Tuesday that a county clerk was not eligible to run and must be removed from office because she didn’t prove that she actually lived in the county when she filed her election paperwork.
“In order to be a resident of Macomb County, you have to actually live in Macomb County,” Circuit Court Judge Daniel Kelly wrote in a 16-page ruling invalidating Karen Spranger’s 2016 election victory. “Because she did not reside in Macomb County, Spranger was not a qualified elector of Macomb County…By law, if Spranger was not eligible to run for county clerk, she has no right to currently hold that office.”
Judge Kelly found in favor of Macomb County and its board of commissioners, ethics board and county executive in their effort to oust Spranger, who they say used an address in her election paperwork that she did not actually live at.
According to the ruling, while preparing to run for the office of Macomb County clerk and register of deeds, 65-year-old Spranger stated on her affidavit of identity that she had been a resident of Macomb County for more than 60 years and that she lived on Hudson Avenue in Warren. She won the November 2016 election by just 635 votes.
Macomb County officials argued that she did not actually live at the Warren address and asked for a quo warranto action against Spranger, which was granted last September, requiring the clerk to prove she is entitled to hold her office.
During oral arguments on March 19, the county argued that “being a registered voter and qualified elector alone are not enough to qualify a candidate to run for office,” the ruling states, asserting candidates must also be truthful on filings like the affidavit of identity.
The county provided evidence including witness statements from neighbors saying the Hudson Avenue house had been vacant for years, mail returned from the address as vacant, and utility statements showing the house hadn’t had electricity or gas services since 2015.
A county sheriff’s department investigation also revealed that the house was filled with garbage, feces and dead animals, according to the ruling.
Spranger’s attorney, Frank Cusumano Jr., argued that Macomb County’s use of the term “residence address” in regards to the affidavit of identity is disingenuous because the form only asks for an “address,” which is different than a “residence.”
Spranger, who owns the property, also said she never claimed to have been physically living at the Hudson Avenue address in 2016, but that she resided there as “judicially determined” or “as defined by Michigan law,” and therefore is allowed to use the address even though she was not actually living there, according to the ruling.
Judge Kelly disagreed and found that the words “residence” and “address” are interchangeable, citing Michigan Court of Appeals precedent.
“She claims to have resided in Macomb County, but provides no documentary evidence to support that assertion,” the judge wrote. “She clearly did not reside [on] Hudson, and yet she has not told this court where she actually ‘laid her head’ during the applicable time period.”
Siding with the county, Kelly ordered the removal of Spranger from office through a writ of quo warranto.
“Voters are entitled to be assured that the candidate for whom they are voting actually and verifiably resides in the same election district,” Kelly wrote.
Spranger’s lawyer, Cusumano, painted a picture of the “haves” versus the “have-nots” in Macomb County.
“Karen Spranger is a Have Not and she has felt the sting of the lash by the Haves. Unlike Robin Hood, there is no happy ending for Spranger. After the Have Nots elected her and she declined to become a Me Too, she was delivered up for execution,” he said via email.
Cusumano added, “Ever since the surprise election of Spranger as County Clerk and Register of Deeds of Macomb County, the barrage of false accusations, innuendo, and outright lies has been incessant and unrelenting by the Haves in control of county government.”
Attorneys for Macomb County did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email request for comment.
Spranger was in charge of the county clerk’s and register of deeds offices and was tasked with overseeing elections in the county. She was elected as the first Republican clerk in the county for more than half a century.
Her temporary replacement will be decided by Macomb County judges and the interim position will last until the November election.
Before the county’s formal effort to remove her, Spranger was sued a year ago by two former chief deputy clerks who claimed she fired them after they reported her erratic management style to the county ethics board.
She is also facing a criminal investigation over whether she committed perjury by lying on the election paperwork, according to the Detroit Free Press.