With a week to go before Election Day, Michigan GOP secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo remains embroiled in a legal battle calling absentee ballots cast by Detroit voters into question.
In a lawsuit filed last week, Karamo claimed Detroit’s absentee ballot counting system was so flawed that Detroit voters should be required to vote in person or absentee ballots in person, alleging issues with ballot drop boxes and signature verification.
The Michigan Constitution allows voters the right to cast absentee ballots for any reason in person or by mail.
On Monday, Karamo’s attorneys withdrew a longshot motion seeking to disqualify any Wayne County circuit court judge from hearing the case.
Judge Timothy Kenny has not yet ruled on the merits of the case but called it a high priority given that the election is in eight days. He scheduled a status conference with attorneys for Tuesday morning and indicated he may hold another hearing Wednesday.
Karamo’s suit asks the court to block absentee ballots submitted by mail or drop box in Detroit. As of last week, 35,629 Detroit voters had already voted by absentee ballot, while another 42,934 voters had requested and received ballots but not yet returned them.
The demand to stop counting those and other mail-in ballots would be “laughable” if it weren’t so serious, said David Fink, an attorney for the Detroit clerk. “The potential consequences here are enormous.”
The lawsuit also seeks to prevent the city from using its absentee counting board at the Huntington Place (formerly the TCF Center) and instead count all absentee ballots in traditional precincts alongside in-person votes.
Benson called the suit “egregious” and said Karamo was seeking to have valid votes thrown out “based on nothing but lies.” She’s said she believes democracy is on the ballot this fall, calling Karamo and Republican attorney general nominee Matthew DePerno “election deniers” who are part of a national strategy to undermine the election process.
Karamo, who rose to prominence among GOP circles for alleging fraud occurred in the 2020 presidential election, doubled down on her stance during a Monday press conference, telling reporters that her legal challenge aims to get “guidance” and protect Detroiters who “feel as though many of their elected officials aren’t listening to them.”
Karamo claimed the city of Detroit has been “plagued with election corruption for years” and said her goal is to protect the voting rights of Detroit residents casting legal ballots.
Fink noted that the Michigan Constitution, as amended by voters through a 2018 ballot proposal, “explicitly and unequivocally“ states that every citizen has a right to vote absentee either in person or by mail.
Karamo and other plaintiffs’ are “only seeking to disenfranchise voters in the largest majority African American city in the state of Michigan,” and that’s “no accident,” Fink argued. “I don’t care what race a party or a lawyer is who brings a case. Blatant racism is blatant racism. This case is to do one thing and one thing only, which is to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters in Detroit who mailed in their vote.”
Alexandria Taylor, an attorney for Karamo, denied that she or her client, who are both Black, filed the suit to undermine Black voters.
“What we filed is not a racist filing, and I take offense to that as a black attorney with deep roots in the city of Detroit,” Taylor said. “We just want full and fair elections. That’s what our plaintiffs here want, and we want that done in the best way possible.”
Karamo’s lawyers had suggested an appearance of impropriety since the Detroit clerk helps run elections in which the judges are elected, but they ultimately withdrew their motion after Kenny noted he is retiring and not seeking re-election.
“There is no bias, in fact, on my part in this case,” Kenny said in a virtual hearing conducted by Zoom. “And there is no appearance of impropriety.”
Fink suggested Karamo’s team was judge shopping to avoid going before Kenny, a Republican appointed judge who in 2020 rejected a post-election lawsuit that sought to stop absentee ballot counting in Detroit amid claims by Trump and his supporters.
“This court has heard exactly the claims, the frivolous nonsensical — excuse me I shouldn’t say that — unproven claims already made in 2020 in this court,” Fink said. “We understand why they don’t want to bring them here.”
Mayor Mike Duggan blasted the lawsuit Saturday in a get-out-the-vote rally with former President Barack Obama, telling the crowd Karamo wants to “cancel the votes of the city of Detroit” but not other areas where Republicans will likely perform better.
“Let’s make Kristina Karamo really mad,” Duggan said, urging support for Democratic incumbent Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. “Get out, vote early, bring your friends.”