By Jon King /

The investigation that led to an election charge against longtime Genoa Township Clerk Polly Skolarus determined that unapproved canvas bags had been used to store excess absentee ballots used in the November election.

A single, misdemeanor charge of Election Law - Failure to Perform Duty was filed against Skolarus last month following an investigation by Michigan State Police. A Freedom of Information Act request by WHMI turned over the 30-page police report and 45 additional pages of supporting documents.

According to the report compiled by Detective Sgt. Michael Baker, multiple witnesses, including Livingston County Clerk Elizabeth Hundley, County Elections Coordinator Joe Bridgman, all four members of the Livingston County Board of Canvassers, Brighton Township Clerk Joe Riker, Green Oak Township Clerk Michael Sedlak, and Hamburg Township Deputy Clerk Mary Kuzner all stated they witnessed Skolarus and Genoa Township Clerk Mary Krencicki wheel in canvas bags to a November 9th canvassers meeting. Skolarus had been asked to appear so that ballots from the absentee ballot counting boards (AVCB 1 & 2) could be retabulated based on a discrepancy between the ballots cast in the poll book versus the number of ballots counted by the tabulator. In and of itself, that is not an unheard-of occurrence and is usually rectified during the canvass of the election afterward.

According to the statements, as soon as Skolarus brought out the canvas bags, it was determined they were not approved to store ballots prior to final certification, as required by law. In her statement, Kuzner said she, Riker and Sedlak, were “stunned” that Skolarus had used the unapproved bags. She further said that Skolarus herself stated, “Oh my God, it’s totally my fault, I told them to use them, I don’t know what I was thinking.” Riker stated Skolarus “commented that they did not have enough certified bags for the election and used storage bags in its place. The county clerks (sic) office commented that the township should have contacted them and could have requested assistance from other municipalities that had extras. Polly Skolarus agreed that she should have done things differently.”

According to the report, Hundley consulted with Lori Bournonais from the State Bureau of Elections, after which the Board of Canvassers made a determination that the precincts in question were "uncountable." Skolarus herself did not provide an official statement to Sgt. Baker for his investigation, but according to the report did say to him, “we ran out of room.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and following the passage of a constitutional amendment in Michigan expanding absentee voting, the November election had a record number of those ballots. Elections Coordinator Joe Bridgman said he had emailed all of the county’s clerks on September 23rd that the Board of Canvassers would be meeting on October 1st to certify ballot containers being used by municipalities and that, if needed, the county clerk’s office would provide additional containers. A copy of that email in the report indicates that Skolarus was among the recipients.

Several witnesses speculated that the canvas bags that were used may have been the type of containers that clerks will use to store election materials following the certification of an election, during a 22-month retention period. The law requiring approved containers, which are described as locked metal boxes that are blue/grey in color, only applies to ballots stored after Election Day and before they are released by the Michigan Bureau of Elections. In the case of the November 2020 election, the release was provided on February 12th of this year.

The report also makes mention of a video recording made during the November 9th Board of Canvassers meeting, although the name of that person was redacted. Sgt. Baker says the person in question “stated he would be willing to provide the video and a written statement.” The man disclosed he had received a tip that there would be issues with the Genoa Township election. Sgt. Baker says he reviewed the video, which was recorded with a cell phone, in which he observed the canvas bags in question. The video also reportedly showed Board of Canvassers Chair Carla Chapman saying that because the ballot bags were unapproved, they could not recount the approximately 9,000 ballots from AVCB 1 & 2, meaning the election night results would have to stand as is. It is believed that approximately 25 ballots ended up not being properly accounted for because of the error.

Skolarus, who is set to be arraigned on the count May 7th, has not returned a request for comment. The charge carries a maximum punishment of 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.