By Charles Sercombe
Hamtramck elections may have turned a new corner.
The results of last week’s city council election had a number of local political observers talking.
The top three vote-getters, Nayeem Choudhury, Mohammed Hassan and Mohammed Alsomiri, also garnered the most absentee ballot votes.
Choudhury was not only the top vote-getter, he received the most absentee at 643. The next highest was Hassan, a former city councilmember with 638, and then Alsomiri with 533.
Fourth-place finisher, Saad Almasmari, who lost his bid for re-election, received 334 absentee votes, followed by Carrie Beth Lasley with 329 and Robert Zwolak with 325.
The use of absentee ballots is nothing new. But the rules to apply for one did get easier. The state no longer requires a reason for voting by this method.
Hamtramck is no stranger to candidates using absentee ballots to tip elections results in their favor. But for some Hamtramck candidates and others, that effort came at a price. They got into legal trouble by improperly handling ballots.
Even Choudhury was no stranger to this issue. The last time he ran for council, the state police investigated how he handled absentee ballots.
He was never charged with an election crime, and it is unclear whether the investigation has been dropped, or is still ongoing.
Zwolak, who has served in a number of local elected positions, including council, city clerk and a charter revision commission, said that no matter the legal pitfalls of relying on absentee ballots, this will likely be the go-to method to drum up votes in future elections.
“They really built a machine,” Zwolak said in reference to the top vote-getters.
But was that all?
Both Hassan and Choudhury distributed campaign flyers and postcards promising to lower taxes and water bills.
Those are promises that Zwolak said are nearly impossible to accomplish, and which may end up prompting a backlash from their supporters.
“There are going to be consequences for that,” Zwolak said. “They made promises that they won’t be able to produce.”
Councilmember Anam Miah agreed that making undeliverable promises swayed a number of voters.
He said it’s a matter of educating voters about the limits of what the city council can do and deliver.
“That lack of knowledge can be an opportunity for some candidates to exploit,” Miah said.
Another twist to this election was that three incumbent councilmembers were knocked out. In the August Primary Election, Councilmembers Miah and Abu Musa failed to survive the cut for the November General Election.
And then on Tuesday, Almasmari lost by 47 votes.
It is rare for an incumbent elected official in Hamtramck to lose an election – but it does happen.
It is also rare for those who get kicked out to make a political comeback. But there are always exceptions, and Hassan proved to be one.
Three years ago, he chose not to seek re-election on city council, and instead took on Mayor Karen Majewski.
That didn’t work out for him.
And so now, here he is returning to a seat on the council.
While absentee ballots have become a focal point, at least in this election, there is another element to consider – especially for those who lost.
Just over 2,800 people cast ballots in Tuesday’s election, out of 12,383 registered voters. That means there were over 9,500 voters who did not bother to vote.
For those in the future who consider a run for elected office, the best path to winning might be to go after those missing voters.
Nov. 15, 2019