Anonymous group burdens clerks with request for ballots

FLINT TWP. — A mysterious group calling itself the United Impact Group out of Astoria, NY has sent Freedom of Information requests to almost all municipalities in Michigan asking for all 2016 presidential ballots.

Flint Township Clerk Kathy Funk said while the township will comply with the FOIA, it is creating a burden on her department just two months away from the November general election.

A FOIA request has been sent to just about every clerk’s office in the state of Michigan. It’s for copies of the 2016 Presidential voted ballots, including the envelopes for Absentee ballots that voters have to sign.

Funk said the FOIA is signed by “Emily” and is from the United Impact Group. There is nothing online about this group. The mailing address is to a post office in Astoria, NY.

Funk said ballots have to remain under the custody of the clerk, by law, meaning the FOIA fees for copying and labor “are astronomical.”

“We have estimated it will 316 hours and will cost ‘Emily’ $16,000 for copying alone – that doesn’t include the cost for paper, shipping, etcetera,” said Funk “This Emily and her United Impact Group are sending deposit checks out for thousands and thousands of dollars. The signature on the checks cannot be read and the address on the checks have been blackened out, according to what clerks are posting on forums.”

She said she is still working on the total cost estimate for Flint Township, but at an estimated one minute per ballot, copying will take 316 hours.

When the copying is done, the township’s legal counsel will draft a letter to accompany it. Emily, said Funk, sent this out right under the wire, with the release date to destroy the ballots on Sept. 28.

“The FOIA puts a hold on my ability to destroy the ballots,” she said.

She said because there is work to be done during regular hours, the FOIA can’t slow the operation of the government, so the work will have to be done after hours.

Funk said she and her staff will not start making the copies until a check is received for at least half the estimated cost. So far, other clerks who have received payments from Emily have said the signature is not legible, but the bank it is drawn on has confirmed the checks are good.

“I don’t know if there are FOIAs like this in other states,” she said. “I’ve called a large municipality in Pennsylvania and they said they’ve received nothing.”

Davison Township Clerk Cindy Shields said the FOIAs are making her and other people uncomfortable, especially since there is no indication who wants the information or why.

“I have no problem with giving them the information, they have a right to it,” she said. “I’m just interested in what it’s about. I’m still working on cost estimates. I’m at $6,000 so far. I still have to make sure all costs are included.”

She has also estimated 57 work hours to fulfill the FOIA request, with some 10,600 ballots in question.

Part of request includes copies of absentee ballot envelopes. She said the copies will show the signature space, but she will redact the signature so no one’s actual signature is visible.

“I’m proceeding cautiously,” said Shields, adding township attorney David Lattie has been advising her along the way.

A call to the phone number listed in the FOIA request connected with a Google voicemail where a message was left, but not returned by press time.

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