By Charles Sercombe
Three Hamtramck men accused of illegally handling absentee ballots during last year’s primary election will have their day in court on Monday (June 9).
Armani Asad, 33, who was an unsuccessful candidate for city council in that election, Mohammed Russell, 32, and Salim Ahmed, 50, all face felony charges. Monday will start out with a selection of a jury followed by testimony in Wayne County Circuit Court.
Judge Timothy Kenny is presiding over the case.
According to City Clerk August Gitschlag, the three defendants dropped off a total of 48 absentee ballots that were not from family members or someone living in their households.
State law says that those who vote by absentee ballot can deliver the ballots themselves, through the mail or by a member of their immediate family or a household member.
Anyone else delivering the ballots is unauthorized by law.
Gitschlag said when the three handed in the ballots, their driver’s licenses were copied and the ballots were banded together and put in a safe. Gitschlag said he was familiar with the law, but called the Secretary of State’s Office to make sure what had happened was improper and what to do next.
The matter was turned over to the police department, and the findings were in turn given to the Attorney General’s Office.
Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a press release that, “Preserving the integrity of the voting process is vital to maintaining the foundation of our free democracy. On election day, voters cast their ballot to make sure their voice is heard. We will not tolerate election law violations.”
Leon Weiss, of the Fieger Law Firm, is one of two attorneys representing the defendants, while the Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case. Weiss could not be reached for comment.
Earlier this week the defendants issued a subpoena to get personal information from those working in the city clerk’s office. That subpoena was rejected by Judge Kenny.
A fourth man, Mohammed Abdur Rahman, 61, was also later charged after he turned in absentee ballots not belonging to his family. His trial will be held separately.
Gitschlag said Rahman is now claiming that the voters in question turned in their own ballots. Those voters also claimed in a court hearing that they returned their own ballots, even though Rahman’s driver’s license was copied on the day he brought in the ballots.
Gitschlag said an attorney with the AG’s office is considering perjury charges against those voters.
This case could have wide implications in politically conservative circles for those who favor voter ID laws and others who claim there are numerous instances of voter fraud.
The four defendants are members of the Bengali community, which has become Hamtramck’s largest voting bloc.
This is the first case like this in Hamtramck, at least in recent memory. Gitschlag said he expects his knowledge of election law will be challenged by the defense as well as being accused of ethnic bias.
Gitschlag said it’s a matter of the law speaking plainly on the matter, and him following the orders of the Secretary of State Office on turning the matter over to the police for an investigation.
The charges drew protests from the Bangladeshi community.
After the first charges were filed about 100 protestors from the Bangladeshi community massed across from city hall in Zussman Park.
Many held up signs, some accusing the city of voter intimidation.
In a prepared statement, protest organizers blamed the city for the charges because it failed to “educate voters.”
“Many are not aware of the proper handling of absentee ballots which has led to recent charges being filed against members of the community,” they said.
If convicted the defendants face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.