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 A Southfield resident double checks her voting precinct before casting her vote in the Nov. 6, 2018, election at Birney K-8 School. Southfield’s city clerk has been charged with altering 2018 election records.

A Southfield resident double checks her voting precinct before casting her vote in the Nov. 6, 2018, election at Birney K-8 School. Southfield’s city clerk has been charged with altering 2018 election records.

File photo by Donna Dalziel


Judge hears testimony in Hawkins case

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published December 4, 2019

 Residents make their selections during the 2018 election inside the voting booth.

Residents make their selections during the 2018 election inside the voting booth.

File photo by Donna Dalziel

OAK PARK/SOUTHFIELD — Judge Michelle Friedman Appel and a full courtroom heard eight hours of testimony in the felony charges against Southfield City Clerk Sherikia Hawkins.

On Nov. 19 and 20, Hawkins and her attorneys appeared before Appel at the 45th District Court for a preliminary exam.

On Sept. 23, Hawkins was arrested and charged with six felonies stemming from the Nov. 6, 2018, election.

Officials said in a news release that discrepancies in the Southfield voter count were brought to the secretary of state’s attention by the Oakland County Clerk’s Office and the Oakland County Board of Canvassers following its efforts to certify Southfield’s absentee ballots.

The Michigan State Police conducted an investigation, according to officials, and determined that election records had been altered.

Hawkins was charged and arraigned in 46th District Court on six felony counts in front of Appel. Officials said Hawkins was given a $15,000 personal bond.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Joceyln Benson hosted a press conference in Lansing Sept. 23, where they offered further detail on Hawkins’ charges.

Benson said Hawkins allegedly made “unauthorized and inaccurate changes” to the list of voters who cast absentee ballots during the election.

However, the changes did not alter the results of the election, she said.

During the November hearings, both the prosecution and defense had an opportunity to make opening statements before diving into witness testimony.

Prosecuting Attorney James Cunningham said he believes Hawkins made a mistake with the absentee ballots and took illegal action to try to rectify the issue.

“It was an illegal attempt to cover up a mistake in an effort to further her rising political star,” he said.

Cunningham repeated numerous times that 193 absentee ballots were tampered with and that Hawkins had wanted to protect her otherwise stellar reputation.

“It’s going to be newsworthy when 193 ballots weren’t counted,” Cunningham said.

Harold Gurewitz, an attorney for Hawkins, said in his opening statement that election mistakes happen all the time.

“One thing should be quite clear: There is nothing simple about the voting process,” he said.

Gurewitz said the issues stemmed from the high-speed scanners Southfield used during the election and that Hawkins’ actions were not made with fraudulent intent.

“We will ask this court to conclude my client’s actions do not support fraudulent intent,” he said.

Seven witnesses took the stand, most of whom work for the Michigan Bureau of Elections. Deputy City Clerk Nicole Humphries and Joe Rozell, the director of elections for Oakland County, also testified.

Sally Williams, the director of elections for the Michigan Bureau of Elections, testified on the ins and outs of Michigan elections.

Williams said that every voter is listed in a database called the qualified voter file. The database includes samples of their signature to verify with absentee ballots.

Election workers also use a poll book, which is a unique download from the qualified voter file that lists which precinct voters are in and what is on their particular ballot, according to documents from the Secretary of State’s Office.

All city clerks participate in a full day of training on the qualified voter file system, and each is given a unique username and password, Williams said.

Williams testified that she had met Hawkins before but didn’t know her, personally. She said she was contacted by Rozell regarding several discrepancies in Southfield’s absentee ballot numbers.

“Those imbalances rose red flags that raised concerns,” Williams said.

Williams said she asked Rozell to document his concerns and sent members of her staff to the canvass in Southfield, which began Nov. 7.

During cross examination, Gurewitz reiterated that the discrepancies were human error and pointed out that people who volunteer to work on Election Day are often “elderly or retired.”

Cynthia Wilkinson, a database architect at the Michigan Bureau of Elections, took the stand next.

Wilkinson said she ran a query within the qualified voter file to find any Southfield absentee ballots that had the return date removed or ballots that were rejected for lacking a signature or for the signature not matching the voter’s registration.

Based on her findings, Wilkinson said, Hawkins logged in around 9 p.m. Nov. 18 and made changes to 193 ballots.

Next to take the stand was Nicole Humphries, who was Southfield’s deputy city clerk at the time of the 2018 election. She is now serving as the city’s acting city clerk.

Humphries said she couldn’t remember some details of Election Day and the days surrounding, as she was dealing with some difficult personal issues.

On Election Day, Humphries said, election workers were having issues with the high-speed scanners used to process ballots and that the scanners had jammed several times.

On Nov. 18, 2018, Humphries said, Hawkins called her to ask if she could deliver two ballot boxes to the Board of Canvassers in Pontiac. Humphries said Hawkins said she was in the hospital.               

When Humphries delivered the boxes, she said she offered to help process them but was denied.

“They would not allow me into the board of canvassers,” she said.

Ella Mills, an Oakland County Elections Division election specialist, testified that, on Nov. 15, 2018, Hawkins went to the office to deliver more ballot boxes that contained ballot summaries of the 36 precincts in Southfield.

Mills said that, while working that day, the ballot summaries came up missing.

“I looked everywhere and found them in the trash,” she said, adding that they don’t typically dispose of paper in the trash.

During cross examination, Mills said that she doesn’t know how the ballots ended up in the trash and she didn’t see Hawkins place them there.

Last to take the stand was Rozell.

Rozell said he called Hawkins Nov. 15, 2018, and asked if she would bring the ballot summaries to his office.

When looking over the documents, Rozell said, he noticed that voters had been removed from the qualified voter file in every precinct in Southfield.

The same day, Rozell was notified by his employee, Mills, that the ballot summaries were found in a trash can.

On Nov. 20, 2019, Appel concluded testimony and adjourned the case so that both parties could file written arguments.

Hawkins, who was elected as Southfield city clerk in 2017, has been charged with:

• Election law – falsifying returns/records, punishable by five years and/or $1,000.

• Forgery of a public record, a 14-year felony.

• Misconduct in office, punishable by five years and/or $10,000.

• Using a computer to commit a crime – election law – falsifying returns/records, punishable by seven years and/or $5,000.

• Using a computer to commit a crime – forgery of a public record, a 10-year felony and/or $10,000.

• Using a computer to commit a crime – misconduct in office, a seven-year felony and/or $5,000.

Hawkins is scheduled to be back in court at 10 a.m. Dec. 17 in front of Appel.