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Board of Canvassers certifies Delta County recall election

DELTA COUNTY CLERK Nancy Przewrocki collects a signed election certification form from Canvasser Sema Deeds on May 17. Also shown, from left, are canvassers John Meyers, Theresa Nelson and Bonnie Hakkola. (Ilsa Minor/Daily Press photo)

ESCANABA — After failing to certify the results of the May 7 Delta County Board of Commissioners recall election Tuesday, the Delta County Board of Canvassers voted to certify the election Friday evening.

All four members signed off on the certification, despite one member not voting to certify and reading a two-page statement claiming she was being “coerced.”

“As a member of the Board of Delta County Canvassers I am being asked to certify the May 7th recall election,” Canvasser Bonnie Hakkola read from her statement Friday. “I am being coerced into signing a document. Whereas the Michigan Constitution states in Article II, Sec. 7 (7) ‘For purposes of this section “to certify” means to make a signed, written statement.’ Therefore, I am writing my statement, which I will sign.”

Hakkola, who also serves as the president of the Delta County Republican Party, was one of two individuals on the board who voted against certifying the election Tuesday, the other being Alternate Canvasser and Delta County Republican Party Secretary LeeAnne Oman. Oman served Tuesday due to the absence of Republican Canvasser Sema Deeds, who was present for Friday’s meeting.

Both Hakkola and Oman based their decision to vote against the certification Tuesday on the consistency of the voter ratios across races. Challengers Kelli Van Ginhoven and Matt Jensen each received 72% of the vote in their respective races, to incumbent commissioners Dave Moyle’s and Bob Petersen’s 27%. In the race between challenger Myra Croasdell and Incumbent Commissioner Bob Barron, the percentages were 73% and 26%, respectively.

Hakkola and Oman voted Tuesday to have a recount of the election — something Hakkola also argued for in her statement Friday, despite referencing the portion of the state constitution that only authorizes post-certification recounts. She said the manual for boards of canvassers permitted the board to conduct recounts.

“That is not correct. The board of canvassers cannot — cannot — touch the ballots or do a recount,” said Canvasser John Meyers, responding to Hakkola on Friday. “We look at the paperwork that is sent to us and if the total number of people in the poll book and the total number of people that voted match up — and we also look at administrative stuff — if that is correct, we certify.”

It was also noted by multiple members of the board and Delta County Clerk Nancy Przewrocki that only candidates may request a recount.

Despite that, Hakkola made statements and asked questions at the end of the meeting suggesting she would be seeking election information by public records requests and seeking a recount.

“How soon can we look at recounts, a recount of the ballots? … When do we need to request? What is the date for putting in a request?” she asked.

A press release dated Monday but sent to the Daily Press late Tuesday by Hakkola’s son, Seth Hakkola, indicates local citizens working with members of Michigan-based groups that deny the validity of the 2020 presidential election have “identified certain statistical anomalies and suspicious voting ratios” and were “formally requesting a hand recount and forensic audit of the results.”

Specifically, the release referenced local citizens working with Joanna Bakale, a prominent member of the Election Integrity Force, who is perhaps best known for advising poll watchers to call 911 if they see suspicious activity around voting machines in 2022; Citizens for Electoral Justice member Scott Aughney, a self-described “independent election investigator and whistleblower” who attempted to obtain a copy of Escanaba’s electronic poll book raw data file through a failed Freedom of Information Act request last year; and Former Republican State Senator Patrick Colbeck, of Michigan’s 7th District.

Hakkola agreed Friday that there were no inconsistencies in the information given to the board of canvassers about the poll books or ballots. However, when the board voted to certify the election, Hakkola did not respond verbally to either vote for or against the motion. Even without Hakkola, the certification passed, as Deeds joined with Meyers and Democratic Canvasser Theresa Nelson in voting to certify.

Many of the comments made by Hakkola in her written statement Friday suggested a broader distrust of the election process. She argued Proposal 2 of 2022, which expanded voter access in Michigan, was “not valid” because there was not a “Constitutional Convention” held related to its passing; argued for one-day voting with hand-counted paper ballots instead of tabulating machines; and referenced a maxim from Charles A. Weisman’s “Maxims of Law,” which is often used by individuals who subscribe to ideologies that deny the legitimacy of at least some aspects of the government or its laws.

“I swore an oath to protect our Constitution to the best of my ability. I am doing my best to protect the votes of the citizens of Delta County and to ensure free and fair elections by bringing transparency and reassurance to all Delta County citizens that you have the right to proper elections. That is a very important right, actually one of the most basic of rights,” read Hakkola.

However, the Michigan Secretary of State’s office had a different position in a letter sent to the board through Przewrocki on Thursday.

“Under both the Michigan Constitution and Michigan Election Law, county canvassers have a clear and non-discretionary duty to certify election results based solely on election returns. The Constitution and Michigan Election Law do not authorize boards of county canvassers to refuse to certify election results based on claims made by third parties of alleged election irregularities, or a general desire to conduct election investigations,” wrote Jonathan Brater, director of elections and secretary of the Board of State Canvassers.

Brater noted in the letter, which spans four pages, that the canvassers who voted against certifying would be guilty of a misdemeanor if they failed to follow the law and explained that the election would be certified by the state board of canvassers if the county canvassers failed to approve the certification. To have that done, the canvassers would have to personally deliver all of the necessary ballots and other election equipment to Lansing, following strict security practices, and all city and township clerks may have needed to travel to Lansing for the certification. While the financial cost of the state taking over the election was not know, Brater said it would be “substantial.”

Because the board of canvassers voted to certify the election, the newly-elected commissioners will be able to take their oath of office next week. A swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for 9 a.m. today at the courthouse in the probate courtroom.

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