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One Ingham County commissioner claims “mean-spirited, damaging mischief” is widening a rift between county officials following accusations of voter fraud and a criminal report filed with the Michigan State Police.
County Clerk Barb Byrum reported “a hunch” this month that Commissioner Deb Nolan moved months ago from her home but failed to update her voter registration, she said. Byrum claimed previously that the misstep could constitute voter fraud and, depending on where Nolan moved, could make her ineligible to hold her office.
Nolan — with dramatic flair — took to the Board of Commissioners’ podium this week and tried to debunk the accusations against her.
“There are others lined up for the dull edge of this chopping block,” Nolan said, contending the recent “half-truths” and “misinformation” spread by her colleagues are unfairly damaging her reputation in the community. “Let’s let the bloodletting stop. Let compassion, reasonableness and accurate rule of law prevail.”
Commissioner Ryan Sebolt said he bumped into Nolan while he campaigned in Lansing earlier this year. She then “admitted” to him that she lived in a home outside of her commission district. Sebolt reported the encounter to Byrum. Byrum decided to take the information straight to state authorities to investigate.
"I'm really not sure what to believe at this point," Byrum said. "It seems as though her story has changed as she has continued to relay it to other people. I'm not sure what to believe at this time, but I look forward to the investigation. I’m not law enforcement. I just did what I believed was right and reported the concerns."
An Michigan State Police spokesperson earlier this month said investigators took a “glance” at the report and decided it wasn’t worthy of a criminal investigation. Byrum said she hasn’t yet heard back but expects a more detailed explanation.
Voter registration records listed Nolan at a home on Heartwood Drive in Okemos. The home was sold last year following a divorce from her husband, but county records indicate Nolan continued to vote from her former address in at least two subsequent elections. The address has since been updated for accuracy.
But Byrum maintained that Nolan’s voting history indicates she made some criminal missteps along the way.
The secretary of state mandates residents update their address when they move within a city or township. State law also requires the change. Failure to do so can result in a civil infraction or license suspension. But it’s unclear how often these rules are enforced. State officials said it largely depends on the specific circumstances.
“Generally speaking, people must vote where they reside and be properly registered at that address, but there are various court rulings nationally that say that a voter’s intent to reside somewhere must be taken into account so what is allowed in practice isn’t always clear,” said Fred Woodhams, Michigan State Department spokesman.
Nolan said she maintains two residences — one just down the block from her former marital home and another closer to Lansing. She argued that she technically still lives within her commission district and should have “no problem” serving the few months remaining on her term. She laughed at the accusation of voter fraud.
“Mathematically proven research shows voter fraud in the United States is almost non-existent,” Nolan said, alleging a conspiracy between Byrum and Sebolt. “Voter fraud is a phrase concocted by the radical alt-right.”
Commissioners, under law, must reside within the district they were elected to represent.
Kathy Birchen, the owner of the home listed at Nolan’s new Meridian Township address, said she offered the part-time space to Nolan because “she’s a county commissioner” and “she needed to do something to finish out her term.” Joan Nelson, a homeowner in Lansing, said Nolan often stays with her but declined to elaborate.
Commissioner Mark Grebner — who also serves as Nolan’s attorney — said Nolan is entitled to serve as commissioner as long as she maintains a dwelling within her district. The outdated registration didn’t matter because she never formally left her neighborhood, he added.
“It’s certainly not voter fraud,” Grebner added. “If Barb Byrum has ever used that term, she is incompetent and wrong and should just stop talking about it. Voter fraud constitutes substantive fraud. It’s a felony. This is not substantive at all. This is not voter fraud. This isn’t some big wrongdoing. This isn’t anything at all.”