Candidates and voters.
Do they all live here?
That’s a question we have raised in recent weeks, and it was once again echoed by City Council candidate Robert Zwolak, and actually initiated by a comment made to us by council candidate Steve Shaya. We go back a long way with Bob Zwolak, and not always on the best of terms.
But his recent statement at a City Council meeting was dead on, and it needs to be acknowledged: If you do not live here, don’t run for office and don’t vote.
In recent weeks, and in this issue, we have explored the residency of certain candidates. And a few months ago we reported on the city’s plan to cross-reference the voter rolls with income tax filings to make sure that the people who vote here are also paying income taxes.
Well, Bob Zwolak threw out a startling piece of information at the last council meeting. According to Bob, there were 2,000 letters sent out to people who voted in the General Election of 2009 but did not file an income tax form with the city. Out of that number, 200 people told the Income Tax Department … get ready … they indeed voted here, but don’t live here.
Finance Director Nevrus Nazarko, who is head of the Income Tax Department, among other duties, is on vacation and we were not able to confirm those numbers with him. But City Manager Bill Cooper said that Zwolak was in the ballpark.
But before you scream election fraud, be aware of something. Our right to vote is fiercely protected by the Constitution and federal law.
For example, let’s say you can’t live in your house or apartment because it’s being renovated, or it was burned down, or you were foreclosed on. You may have been forced to live outside of the city, even though you have plans to still reside in Hamtramck.
Well, guess what?
You have every right to still vote here.
But, and this is a big one, you can’t vote anywhere else.
Or, maybe you winter in Florida but come back in warm weather. You still have a right to vote here – but not anywhere else.
The exceptions and rights are endless when it comes to voting. And that’s a good thing, because there have been mighty forces in the past to prevent certain people, including people of color, from voting.
Our right to vote must be protected.
But the fact that 200 or so people have admitted they don’t live here but vote here is disturbing.
It certainly suggests fraud.
One question we have, and hope to have answered in the coming weeks, is whether these folks ever lived in Hamtramck. And if not, did they commit fraud by applying for a voter registration card by listing a false address?
And another question is: If you say you don’t live here but vote here, do you still have to pay city income taxes?
There are many thorny questions about this subject.
City Manager Bill Cooper told us that his administration is “sorting” out the legal questions to determine whether there is a legal cause to start prosecuting people for voter fraud.
He said that officials from the state have told him it’s up to the city to determine whether there is enough evidence to bring on criminal charges. We’re going to look into this in the coming weeks because, quite frankly, election law is too complicated – and possibly too costly — to risk local prosecution.
Certainly state and federal officials have a stake in this matter, and we are going to ask the state’s Secretary of State Office, which is in charge of elections statewide, and the Justice Department to weigh in on this matter.
It seems only right that you vote where you live. We know there are many exceptions to this rule, but Hamtramck seems to have become a political playground for outsiders.
Certainly everyone would agree that Hamtramck deserves local control, supported by the locals who actually live here.