DETROIT (Reuters) - A Michigan judge halted a review of Detroit's disputed August mayoral primary on Thursday and ordered a state board not to count write-in ballots or certify a winner in the election held more than three weeks ago.
The state board of elections had been canvassing the results of the August 6 mayoral primary to determine whether the winner is former hospital chief executive Wayne Duggan, who ran a write-in campaign, or Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.
In any case, Duggan and Napoleon will face each other on November 5 in the general election to determine a successor to Mayor Dave Bing, who said in May he would not seek re-election.
A candidate for city clerk, D. Etta Wilcoxon, had challenged the state canvass in Ingham County Court, and Judge Joyce Draganchuk ordered the canvassing stopped and the state board not to handle or remove from ballot boxes any ballots cast in the primary. She set a hearing for Tuesday in the dispute.
Unofficial city results gave the nod to Duggan, but the Wayne County election canvassing board earlier in August refused to certify the city's count, or a recommendation from the Wayne County Clerk's office to exclude about 18,000 write-in votes and declare Napoleon the winner with Duggan finishing second.
The Wayne County Clerk's office had recommended excluding votes where the city election workers simply wrote down a number when recording the write-in vote totals in the election book instead of using hash marks to show a running total.
Detroit is under the control of state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr and filed for bankruptcy protection in July, but the primary nevertheless drew more than a dozen named candidates.
Michigan law does not require hash marks to be used, but does require clerks to show their math for canvassers who review the results. State election officials certify an election when a county fails to do so. The state board had expected to have the election board finalize and certify a result on Tuesday.
"They are acting beyond any authority in Michigan law," attorney Andrew Paterson, who represents Wilcoxon, said in an interview. "What they are doing is reserved for the county board of canvassers and the city clerk. They have no basis for taking the actions they are taking."
Michigan Elections Director Chris Thomas has said that the Wayne County board should have retabulated the ballots if it was concerned about the way the votes were counted.
Editing by David Bailey and Eric Walsh