Local NAACP branch seeks to expel Harper Woods councilwoman

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published December 15, 2020



HARPER WOODS — The Grosse Pointes-Harper Woods NAACP is seeking permission from the national organization to expel one of its members after she served as a plaintiff in one of several lawsuits seeking to delay the certification of votes in the city of Detroit following the Nov. 3 general election.

The member in question is Harper Woods City Councilwoman Cheryl Costantino. The lawsuit sued the city of Detroit, the Detroit Election Commission, the Detroit city clerk, the Wayne County clerk and the Wayne County Board of Canvassers over alleged voter fraud. Critics said this move was made to invalidate the legal votes of American citizens.

“Her lawsuit was filed against the city of Detroit and Wayne County Clerk and spoke specifically about the actions at the TCF Center, which was where the Detroit votes were counted,” said Cynthia Douglas, the president of the Grosse Pointes-Harper Woods NAACP. “For her to try and cancel out anyone’s vote is not something we can stand for. There was no evidence of election malfeasance, so this (lawsuit) was not something called for.”

Douglas said that since the population of Detroit is overwhelmingly African American, and there is a long history of African Americans having their voting rights infringed upon, the actions of Costantino raised red flags for her and her fellow NAACP members.

“We support everyone’s right to vote, and to allege fraud without any evidence is just not something we can support. It was nothing short of an effort to suppress the vote of the Detroit community,” she said. “We’re here to support civil rights and we will continue to do that, even if it means taking action against one of our own members.”

Costantino said she simply wanted to ensure the integrity of the election and did not aim to disenfranchise anyone.

“The NAACP falsely said that the suit prohibited the certification of the election results,” she wrote in an email. “The purpose of the lawsuit was to bring forth and audit prior to certification, not to avoid certification. It should have been simple — bring in a third party, check the machines and the process, fix it, then certify the votes. I’m not sure why the GPHW NAACP and Democratic officials were so adverse to an audit, but the fact that they went to such lengths to avoid it, concerns me.”

“While we respect the fact that she is a private citizen and can file lawsuits as she feels she needs to, as a member of the NAACP, we felt this was not in line with our mission of upholding the civil rights of our community,” said Douglas. “Even though it was filed in Detroit, Harper Woods is part of Wayne County and it is a majority Black population, so we felt they were equally affected.”

Douglas said the suit was aimed at Detroit, which has a mostly African American population, rather than at other cities that also had claims of potential voter irregularities.

“Not only was it offensive — to try to quash the votes of a city such as Detroit and not other cities with more problems during the election such as Livonia — it isn’t fair and in line with our mission as we see it,” she said.

Costantino alleged several inconsistencies took place at the TCF Center in Detroit where the votes were being counted. She said she did not file suit against other cities because she was not in other cities on Election Day.

“I volunteered as an experienced poll challenger from 10 p.m. election night to 5 a.m. Wednesday at TCF,” she wrote. “The election workers were great, but a number of things concerned me. There were unfair hiring practices, ‘glitchy’ machines that didn’t tabulate properly, improperly trained workers, extreme wasteful spending, lack of proper procedure, not checking signatures and more. It didn’t sit well. I learned that Article 2, Section 4 of the Michigan Constitution allows any voter to request an audit to determine if the election was done fairly and that the results were accurate. I wanted the truth so I filed to request the audit.”

Election officials said they have found no basis for such claims and any lawsuits alleging them — including Costantino’s — have been thrown out.

“All of her other claims have been rejected in multiple courts,” said David Fink, the lead counsel for the city of Detroit in all recent election litigation. “The United States Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of the state of Michigan and dozens of other courts have reviewed and rejected these cases with more than 50 lawsuits having been filed. Not one single improperly counted vote has been identified.”

He went on to list the reasons courts have dismissed the claims brought forth by Costantino.

“Ms. Costantino is raising claims that have already been debunked and rejected by multiple courts,” explained Fink. “In her own case, the court correctly found that there was no reason for signatures to be checked at the TCF Center because the comparison of signatures occurred at the Detroit Election Headquarters on West Grand Boulevard before any ballots went to be counted at the TCF Center. Her understanding of the process for hiring election inspectors is just plain wrong. The issue was presented to Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny who correctly found that the law does not require that each political party be represented at every table in the room, only that at least one representative of each major party must be at the absent voter counter place. In fact, at all times there were at least 13 Republican election inspectors at the adjudication stations at the TCF Center. Of course, in the city of Detroit far more Democrats than Republicans apply to work as election inspectors. In Detroit over 95% of voters vote Democratic, so it should be no surprise that more inspectors are Democrats than Republicans, but it is a very fair process, with both major parties receiving a list of all of the election inspectors with their names and party affiliations weeks before the election. If the Republican Party had an issue with the list of election inspectors they could have raised it before Election Day, but they did not. As to her claims that some people applied for positions and were not hired, there was a deadline and late applicants were rejected and the applicants who applied did so after the deadline.”

Costantino said that close to 100 Republicans applied for positions to work on Election Day before the deadline and were told they were not needed. Her specific case did not go before Kenny.

Costantino’s expulsion from the NAACP will have to be decided by the organization’s national committee. Douglas said a response is expected to take between 30 and 60 days from when it was filed Dec. 5.

“We don’t do this locally,” she said. “(The expulsion) requires us to collect about 20 signatures from members. It is then forwarded to the national committee of the NAACP, and then they make the decision based on the information we send to them. She will have an opportunity to give her viewpoint. So it doesn’t necessarily mean she will be expelled, it just means the national committee can make a decision on the matter.”

Costantino defended her position and said that she has been the target of bullying and verbal abuse following her suit.

“The NAACP is making a mistake by trying to remove me,” she wrote. “They should help me improve the voting system in a sensitive way. Since they have been trying to exclude me, I noticed that they have taken on a more radical extremist agenda. I could help them understand that we all want the same thing, equality and fairness for all, even though we have different ways of going about getting there.”