OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. – Michigan State Police have arrested a recently celebrated Democratic Party official on several felony charges related to voter discrepancies.
The Michigan official who earlier this year received an award from the state’s Democratic Party is now facing six felony charges for reportedly forging records and falsely marking absentee ballots as invalid during the 2018 election, reported The Detroit News.
Sherikia Hawkins, 38, city clerk for the city of Southfield, was arrested Monday after the Oakland County Clerk’s office noticed discrepancies in voter counts while certifying absentee ballots from Southfield. State police investigated and found that records had been altered so that nearly 200 voter files were improperly listed as invalid.
“Our elections are the foundation of our democracy, and under my and Attorney General [Dana] Nessel’s administration there will be no tolerance for any actions that undermine that foundation — anywhere, anytime, by any person or official,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement.
According to court documents, Michigan police found that 193 absentee voter files were changed in the city’s computer system to say they either had no signature or no return date, when they had both valid signatures and return dates. Police stated that after Oakland County Election Director Joseph Rozell found that Hawkins had submitted altered reports, his staff found the original ones in a trashcan at the election division office.
Benson insisted that the alleged fraud did not affect the outcome of the election.
“All valid votes in the election were ultimately counted and the final official vote total was accurate,” she said, according to The Detroit News.
Hawkins’ arrest comes just months after she was honored May 18 at the Michigan Democratic Party’s Legacy Dinner, where she received the Dingell/Levin Award. In 2017, she was listed among the “40 under 40” by the Michigan Chronicle, according to a government bio from her previous role as Pontiac city clerk.
At the time, Hawkins made history as the first African-American elected as Southfield city clerk, according the city’s website.
She also had administered 16 elections in Oakland County and holds a master municipal clerk designation from the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.
“Sherikia takes pride in using unconventional methods to engage the community in voting,” the website says.
Her term is set to expire in 2021.
Hawkins was charged with falsifying records in violation of state election law, forgery of a public record, misconduct in office and three counts of using a computer to commit a crime. The top count carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, Fox News reported. She was arraigned on Monday and released on $15,000 bond, according to a state press release. Hawkins has a probable cause conference set for Sept. 30, and another hearing scheduled for Oct. 15.
Despite what looks like a ton of evidence pointing toward Hawkins, her attorneys said that it was just a technicality, WXYZ reported.
Attorney David Jones said that Hawkins has overseen problem-free elections in the past and had no motive to change absentee ballots.
“In fact Jocelyn Benson and Dana Nessel’s own press conference indicates that there was no voter disenfranchisement,” Jones pointed out. “So while there may have been some technical issues with regard to the voter list or the results, no voter was disenfranchised. Every vote was counted. I think this is a matter of something, technicality over substance, and I think she is going to be vindicated.”
The AG’s Public Integrity Unit will prosecute the case.
UPDATE: Hawkins is scheduled to return to court March 10 for a preliminary hearing, reported The Oakland Press.