"When we elect these folks, we hope that they do their job."
This township clerk could face up to a decade in prison if convicted of tampering with election ballots … Changing local election results.
State Police say a complaint from Grout Township in Gladwin County to the Bureau of Elections revealed odd numbers in last year’s elections.
They say an investigation led to the arrest of township clerk Linda Birgel.
9&10’s Cody Boyer and photojournalist Jeff Blakeman have the latest details with what she’s accused of doing to ballots.
State police say Linda Birgel purposefully disqualified ballots by filling in information on both sides of the ticket, a felony.
"This is the democratic process so if someone comes forward and has a complaint on how that’s handled, it’s very serious,” says Sgt. Pete McNamara, MSP West Branch Post.
Sgt. McNamara says troopers spotted abnormalities in a process that must be carefully followed.
“How those ballots are either qualified or disqualified and the seals, once the ballots are collected, the seals on the bags and we make sure the seals are not broken,” Sgt. McNamara says. “Some of the ballots, they were both republican and democrat were both voted on, which cancels out that part of the ballot."
“It casts a shadow of doubt on the entire process,” says Tom Dunn, who ran for the Gladwin County Board of Commissioners in 2013.
He says losing by 100 votes to Linda Birgel’s own husband now has him suspicious.
“There has to be a change,” Dunn says. “You don’t get charged by the prosecuting attorney, Aaron Miller, just because. There has to be some substance behind it."
Clerks across the state, whether they are township are county, including Missaukee County say that the process to follow while handling ballots is very important for a reason.
In fact, 18 rules, that’s what they have to follow.
“Our job and our goal, of course, as election officials and both county clerk and all of our township and city clerks is always to maintain the integrity of the elections and for each voter and for their voice to be heard,” says Jessica Nielsen, Missaukee County Clerk.
The main question in this case: were those voices silenced?
“Everyone’s right is to vote,” Sgt. McNamara says. “We have to make sure that all of the votes are counted and the people that are responsible for handling the voting process, they are held accountable."
Birgel is charged with two felonies punishable by up to 5 years in prison, including absentee ballot tampering and disclosing/obstructing votes.
She is also charged with a 90 day misdemeanor of failing to perform her duty.
She will be back in court in about two weeks.
A future Grout Township meeting could determine her position there.