The fight between Republican County Clerk Kathy Michael and the Democrats looking to unseat her escalated Tuesday as Michael claimed she’s been falsely accused of voter suppression and Democrats alleged they have proof Michael does political work on county time.
Michael made a 13-minute statement to reporters and a roomful of supporters Tuesday at Jim’s Steakhouse. She did not take questions from the media and left the room abruptly after her remarks.
Michael spoke in response to allegations made by her Democratic challenger, Nikita Richards, in a recent Huffington Post article and in video clips online. In the Huffington Post article, Richards suggested Michael made an “unethical decision” to move polling places out of minority and low-income neighborhoods, pointing to a “history in this office of voter suppression.”
“These types of deliberately false statements hurt the very voters my opponent professes to care about, by attempting to make our citizens not trust the integrity of our voting process,” Michael said, calling for Richards to retract her comments and apologize.
Video: Watch Michael's statement to reporters:
Michael, seeking her third term, said Richards was attacking the election process with “lies of voter suppression and not-so-subtle hints of racism.” She cited Richards’ Aug. 15 remarks (captured by GLT) that Michael was engaged in voter suppression and that the county clerk’s services were “inaccessible and outdated,” leading to “negative impacts for people who are poor, disabled, and black and brown community members.”
Michael denied that. She said her office regularly works with nonprofits and civic organizations to register voters. She said she’s never been formally accused or investigated over voter suppression.
“It’s difficult to even find words to respond to this,” Michael said, appearing to choke up.
Richards told GLT she was not available for an interview Tuesday. It was not immediately clear which polling places to which Richards was referring in the Huffington Post article.
Last year the county approved moving polling places out of Parkside Junior High and Normal West schools, over to Heartland Community College, after Unit 5 raised concerns about security. Another polling place on Orlando Avenue in Normal was considered for a move but stayed put.
Michael said the county clerk can’t change the location of polling places without county board approval. For the west Normal changes, Michael said voters were notified well in advance.
“This statement shows a complete lack of understanding of the county clerk’s office,” Michael said.
Michael also defended herself anew against criticism that she bungled preparations for the 2016 primary at Illinois State University’s voting site, leaving students waiting hours to vote. Michael said she had actually flagged the possibility of long lines as early as 2015 and asked the McLean County Board for additional money to prepare. She said she was rebuffed. The county board later approved additional money to add election judges.
“While I am ecstatic about the national coverage my campaign has attracted, I remain focused on the vision I have for the clerk’s office. As clerk I will represent all of McLean County and be a positive voice for moving forward together,” Richards said in a text to GLT on Tuesday.
Michael’s Computer Use
Richards is one of several Democratic candidates looking to unseat Republican incumbents in historically red McLean County on Nov. 6. The energized McLean County Democrats are looking to chip away at the Republican Party’s 15-to-5 majority on the County Board. Republicans also hold every countywide office and statehouse district.
Michael is one of their top targets. On Tuesday the McLean County Democrats released records they said were obtained from the county through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Josh Rohrscheib, a Decatur lawyer with ties to the Democratic Party, FOIA’d Michael’s internet browsing history for her county-owned computer from May through July.
Democrats say Michael’s browsing history shows her using her county computer on county time to “advance her political campaign,” a violation of state law. That includes visiting Richards’ Facebook page on several occasions. The Democrats also allege Michael improperly blocked users from the county clerk’s non-campaign Facebook page, including McLean County Democratic Party chair Erik Rankin, who is also a county board member.
“An individual (like Michael) who is running on transparency and being a person who doesn’t engage in any of these types of activities, and then is caught in said activities, makes that person look like a hypocrite. They’re not telling you the truth,” Rankin told GLT. “And this is just a snapshot. I have a sneaking suspicion that this isn’t the end of what we’ll hear about things she’s done.”
Michael declined to address the FOIA issue Tuesday.
“I won’t dignify that with a response,” Michael told GLT.
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