BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - The losing candidate in Tuesday night’s mayoral election in Benton Harbor of that election has suspicions that voter fraud was the reason he lost. Wilce Cooke lost by eight votes and announced his intentions Friday to ask for a recount and an investigation.
Most of Cooke's suspicion is surrounding absentee ballots but he claims there were other problems with the election process. Had the absentee ballots not counted in the election Cooke would have won the race. “There have been a lot of things wrong with the absentee ballots,” said Cooke
Friday Cooke and his supporters held a press conference outside the clerk's office on Territorial Drive in Benton Harbor. Cooke made it clear he isn’t losing his job without a fight. “There are irregularities, these things do happen,” said Mayor Pro tem Marcus Muhammad. Muhammad said the absentee votes that cost Cooke the election need to be thrown out.
The Cook camp claims the ballots could have been tampered with. They say before the election the ballots were dropped in a deposit box for the city clerk but the city's water department also has a key to that deposit box. “Even if the box is locked it should only be accessible by the clerk's office,” said Muhammad.
Cooke also claims at the polls, police were intimidating voters. For example, people with warrants might have voted for Cooke but would have been afraid of the police presence. “They were totally wrong in the way they handled everything. (There were) police officers in the building. It was clear intimidation,” said Mary Alice Adams, a commissioner-elect and supporter of Cooke.
According to Benton Harbor Director of Public Safety Roger Lange, police were present in numbers. “(They were there) to make sure all citizens had equal rights to vote for whoever they wanted without fear of intimidation,” he said.
Wednesday Berrien County Clerk Louise Stine told ABC 57 News that Benton Harbor’s election paperwork came back flawless with no errors to report.
Cooke isn’t convinced. “We’re not saying there’s any fraud but we’re saying there’s suspicion of it and we’re going to pursue it,” he said. An investigation, he said, is right around the corner.
Cooke seems to have rescinded his earlier accusations of dead voters being accounted for on the absentee ballots. When asked Friday he said "I said someone told me that someone on the absentee ballots were dead. We don't know. We haven't investigated it yet. It didn't come from us it came from citizens in the community so that's an issue too we're going to have to follow."
According to Cooke, recount paperwork should be filed with the clerk’s office early next week.