Dearborn Heights City Clerk Walter J. Prusiewicz submitted his letter of resignation on Tuesday, July 22, amid allegations he’d intimidated Arab American voters who were trying to cast absentee ballots for the upcoming mid-term primary.
However on Thursday, he rescinded his resignation letter, telling reporters he would serve out his term.
According to Fatina Abdrabboh, the Michigan director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC-MI), several Arab American residents of the city filed complaints with the organization over the last two weeks because they faced excuses preventing them from voting at the clerk’s office.
Abdrabboh said the excuses ranged from statements that absentee ballots would be mailed to the voter, to claims that the voter did not have proper identification. She forwarded a report of the complaints to city officials, who either ignored her inquiry or dismissed her claims outright.
In an interview with The Arab American News, Dearborn Heights Mayor Dan Paletko distanced himself from Prusiewicz, calling for either the secretary of state or the Wayne County clerk to oversee the elections in the city. He also confirmed that some ballots were denied.
“The city clerk is elected separately,” Paletko said. “I had a chat with him. I do not fully understand why the absentee ballots were denied. The reasons he provided were more technical than practical.”
The mayor said he takes the allegations seriously. He added that challenging absentee ballot requests is a concern, because it runs the risk of denying citizens’ right to vote.
“Voting is the primary right established in a democracy,” he said. “There is a significant reasonable doubt being placed over the vote. To assist the process, we have to remove that doubt by having a new party run the elections.”
He added that he fears the story will bring negative national attention to the area, which is already struggling with image and looking like a “third world country” because of the Detroit water crisis. Hence, he said, he wants the election to not be handled by the city clerk’s office.
Clearly not the only reason Dearbornistan is looking like a third world country.
Abdrabboh said she is disappointed in the city’s lack of response to the local Arab American community. She said she reported the story exclusively to The Arab American News on July 23, in an attempt to relay the message to the community as soon as possible.
The ADC believes the denial of the absentee ballots by the clerk’s office was racially motivated.
“The number of complaints is alarming,” said Abdrabboh. “As a community organization we do our homework. We have gathered that non-Arab absentee applications have been processed, whereas Arab American applications have not been.”
Abdrabboh added that turning down Arab Americans requesting absentee ballots is a violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits intimidation of minority groups at the polls.
In his resignation letter, Prusiewicz cited a number of reasons for stepping down, including “the accusations”, which he denies. Prusiewicz’s letter went on to state that despite his resignation, he will continue his duties until after the August 5 primary.
In an interview with reporters on Thursday, Prusiewicz said several absentee ballots were disregarded because there had been no signatures on them. He said he had been in contact with state election officials, who told him to not process them.
Prusiewicz also told the Dearborn Press & Guide that he would not move forward with his resignation. Abdrabboh said she is concerned about the back-peddling.
ADC is calling for the attorney general and the FBI to launch a full investigation into the claims.
Paletko said the county clerk and the secretary of state have the power to conduct an investigation once they agree to take over the elections in the city.
Will Holder be enforcing voter fraud in Dearborn?