Judge Fines MI County $10K for Dodging Election Integrity FOIA

Michigan Grassroots Alliance (MGA), a dedicated election integrity watchdog group, has finally emerged victorious after a grueling battle for transparency. The group filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request over a year ago, seeking video surveillance footage that could potentially shed light on the questionable handling of voting results during the 2022 elections in Wayne County. Despite the law stating that the tape should have been provided within five days, it took an astonishing 13 months for the matter to be resolved.

Patrick Colbeck, the representative for MGA, experienced a bureaucratic nightmare before finally obtaining the sought-after footage. According to MGA’s complaint, Colbeck filed a simple FOIA request on August 12, 2022, but faced multiple delays, stonewalling tactics, and contradictory payment requirements from Wayne County. The county initially informed Colbeck that his request had been granted, but then rejected his payment as it wasn’t made with “guaranteed funds.” After further confusion and delays, Colbeck finally submitted a cashier’s check for the deposit on December 20, 2022.

Even after months of waiting, Colbeck still hadn’t received any part of the requested video or a reasonable explanation for the delays and redactions. Frustrated, he filed a complaint in May 2023, which ultimately led to a settlement. On September 7, 2023, Wayne County finally provided Colbeck with an unredacted copy of the video footage and agreed to pay MGA $10,000 within 30 days, without admitting any wrongdoing. The county also refunded Colbeck’s deposit and was ordered by Circuit Judge Edward Ewell Jr. to cover MGA’s attorney fees.

While MGA celebrated this hard-fought victory for transparency, questions remain about the county’s delaying tactics and the need for accountability in election processes. Colbeck believes that too many government bodies are practicing “denial through delay tactics” and issuing denials based on vague security concerns. He emphasizes that transparency is crucial for people to have confidence in their government, and FOIA requests play a vital role in achieving that transparency.

Hopefully, Wayne County has learned a valuable lesson from this experience. As MGA’s attorney, Thomas Lambert, pointed out, transparency only favors the truth. If election officials believe that integrity investigators are simply chasing wild conspiracy theories, providing requested records will prove it. On the other hand, if wrongdoing occurred, disclosure of the records will expose it. The foundation of a functioning democracy rests on transparency and accountability, and it’s essential that government bodies uphold these principles.

Written by Staff Reports

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