Redford Township Clerk Garth Christie and his entire staff were forced to leave the office Wednesday after a judge issued a restraining order that bars them from working on the Aug. 4 primary election.
The move leaves the clerk’s office unstaffed two weeks before a contested primary election when many voters typically would be picking up or dropping off absentee ballots.
The judge’s order stems from a lawsuit that claims Christie has defamed township trustees, showing bias in the election.
Township officials were scrambling to find replacement workers who can be sworn in to legally work the election.
“I don’t see it being an interruption in the election,” said Township Superintendent Diane Webb. “From what I’ve heard from legal counsel, is that under these circumstances, I can appoint a deputy, I just have to have the person sworn in by the district judge. We will be able to preserve the sanctity of the election voters process.”
Christie could not be reached for comment. Deputy Clerk Tina Rekau, who said she was on paid administrative leave after being ordered out of the office Wednesday, disagreed with Webb. Rekau said the enforcement of the order casts a cloud on the entire election because the custody of ballots has been compromised.
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Rekau spoke to the Free Press by phone from the parking lot of the township hall where she described seeing a former clerk’s office employee empty a ballot drop box where residents submit their absentee ballots. Rekau said that employee is no longer under oath from the clerk and is precluded from handling ballots.
“Now they have compromised over 2,000 ballots because somebody went in our office, and gained access to keys to the ballot box,” Rekau said.
Rekau said she could have accompanied someone to empty the ballot box, but she had been ordered to leave the office.
Webb acknowledged the box was emptied, but said the former clerk’s office employee was still authorized to handle ballots.
“The girl that did it used to work the last election, but she’s not allowed to go (into) the ballot box, let alone go into our office and take keys,” Rekau said, adding that thousands of ballots remain in the clerk’s office with no authorized person guarding them.
“When I walked out of the office, the ballots were locked up,” she said.
Rekau said the order comes at one of the busiest times for the clerk’s office.
“In 2016, we processed over 2,000 absentee ballots,” Rekau said. “We’re up to over 8,000 this time. We probably would have hit 9,000 if we had been able to stay there and do our job.”
On Monday, Wayne County Circuit Judge Sheila Gibson signed the order saying Christie as well as his staffers “are enjoined and restrained from participating in the August 4, 2020, (primary) that involves the administrative task of collecting, validating, tabulating any ballots from the citizens of Redford Township or appointing, assigning or delegating any person to those tasks prior to the hearing schedule on this motion.”
The order came in response to a defamation lawsuit filed by township Trustee Linda Jackson, who claims Christie defamed her and three other trustees in a piece his campaign published in a local newspaper, The Redford Connection.
“The clerk has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s entirely too biased to run this election,” Jackson told the Free Press. “He has orchestrated an entire smear campaign against me and three other board members and I was not going to sit still for that.”
Webb said the township was served the court order after hours Tuesday and had to figure out how to enforce it Wednesday. The clerk’s office is open from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Webb said she spoke to township attorneys as well as the Michigan Secretary of State Bureau of Elections and the Wayne County Elections Division before deciding to proceed. She said she was given assurance that replacement employees can be brought in to work the election.
“We are seeking further information into what is tra…