As Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey runs the Nov. 2 election, she’s also running a campaign to keep her seat after a resounding win in the primary. The City Clerk race is one of the most pivotal issues on the ballot, with challenger Denzel McCampbell arguing that the next clerk needs to undertake a “complete overhaul of how we approach civic engagement and voting in the city,” a rebuke to Winfrey’s tenure.
Winfrey has served for the past 13 years taking on three roles as outlined by the city charter: City Clerk, Official Record Keeper and Chief Elections Officer. The clerk’s most visible duty is overseeing elections, but the officeholder is also responsible for maintaining transparency for Detroit’s legislative body by keeping and disseminating records about City Council — including minutes, meeting notices and a calendar.
Winfrey entered the national spotlight during the 2020 election, as protesters attempted to disrupt ballot counting and the Wayne County Board of Canvassers initially failed to certify election results, citing Detroit’s unbalanced precincts. (Election results were certified and a statewide audit confirmed the election’s accuracy and security.) Earlier this year, Winfrey testified before a U.S. House panel about threats she and Department of Elections staffers had received as local election officials came under attack nationwide.
Locally, however, she’s faced criticism for low turnout and other election issues, including closed precincts and missing absentee ballots. After the 2020 primary, the Secretary of State’s office partnered with the city to ensure the integrity of the general election.
Winfrey told the Detroit News in an email that she is running to keep doing her job, “ensuring Detroit residents are aware of elections and don’t face barriers to voting.” She’s avoided campaign and media appearances this election cycle.
McCampbell has criticized Winfrey for a lack of voter education and for limiting the number of absentee ballot drop boxes in this year’s primary. His focus is on transparency and if elected, he intends to post records like City Council minutes online, something that he says has been lacking under the current leadership.
A graduate of Cass Technical High School and Eastern Michigan University, Winfrey worked as a math teacher for Detroit Public Schools. When she took office in 2006, Winfrey was entering a position fraught with dysfunction. In late 2005, the Wayne County Circuit Court placed the city’s absentee voting process under the receivership of Wayne County Elections as a result of alleged voter fraud. Back then, it took days to obtain all precinct returns and poll workers took memory cards containing election results home with them. Under her tenure, Winfrey boasts the establishment of the Detroit Archives and Records Management Division, improving election night result times and the introduction of BallotTrax, which informs voters of the status of their absentee ballot.
McCampbell has served as a member of the Detroit City Charter Commissioner. He’s also communications director and an advisor for Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and is a board member for the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice and the Mary Turner Center for Advocacy.