JACKSON, Mich. — Former Jackson mayoral candidate John Wilson is suing WLNS for publishing a story that said he lost the Jackson mayor's race before the polls closed on Election Day.
At some point between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Election Day, WLNS published a story on its website that said Daniel Mahoney had won the Jackson mayor race. The headline of the article read “(Don’t Publish) Daniel Mahoney defeats John Wilson, as the next Mayor of Jackson.”
The complaint states “the story was immediately and subsequently viewed by an untold number of registered voters in the city of Jackson." The story was also picked up by NewsBreak, a local news aggregation app, "which spread the WLNS story to an additional untold thousands of registered voters,” the lawsuit said.
In the complaint, Wilson claims WLNS did this “willfully, maliciously and with clear and unmistakable intent to harm the Plaintiff [sic] create, fabricate and publish on its very widely viewed internet site wlns.com a false, misleading, harmful, inaccurate, untrue libelous news story stating that Plantiff had lost the election to his opponent.”
The result, Wilson claims, is that "hundreds and hundreds" of his supporters did not bother to vote.
“This was the exact and only possible result WLNS could have intended," Wilson said in an interview. "There is no other plausible explanation.”
“I received numerous phone calls, text messages in regards to this article that was published hours before the poll is closed by TV 6 on Election Day asking me why this was published. 'What’s going on? Is the election over?'" he said. "Of course the election was not over. We still had four and a half hours before the polls closed. These individuals who did contact me wondered whether or not it would be worth their while to even go vote after this announcement was made.”
An official from Nexstar Media Group, the parent company of WLNS, said they would not comment on pending litigation.
Mayor-elect Daniel Mahoney defeated John Wilson 2,077 votes to 1,745.
The complaint also states the city of Jackson did not adequately address issues of election sign placement near polling locations.
Election law states campaign signs and materials cannot be placed within 100 feet from polling locations. Wilson claims Mayor-elect Daniel Mahoney either “by himself or through his staff” violated Election Code.
“There are state and local election laws. Our city government officials and our election officials are required to follows those laws,” he said. “On election day, my opponent had placed on the premises of three voting stations, poll stations banner signs and yard signs. A clear violation of both state and local laws.”
Mahoney declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Wilson said he reported the violations but believes it was only taken care of at Cascades Baptist Church in Jackson’s Ward 6.
“That was only after I went inside the polling station and reported the violation to an election official. And, then they went outside and removed the signs that had been illegally placed,” he said.
The claimed violations also occurred in Ward 1 at the Martin Luther King Center which is a polling location and at St. John’s on Mechanic Street which is the polling location for Jackson’s Ward 5.
Public Information Officer Aaron Dimick said as a matter of written policy, the city of Jackson does not comment on specific allegations of any pending litigation, “including the claims against the city in Mr. Wilson’s recent lawsuit.”
“Those claims will be properly addressed, litigated and adjudicated in the 4th Circuit Court,” Dimick said. “However, the city is highly confident in the integrity of the 2021 election results, including the mayoral race. A citizen’s right to vote is a fundamental right which must be upheld, protected and preserved, irrespective of any post-election attempts to disenfranchise the city’s voters and change the lawful outcome.”
Wilson is asking for $20,899 to reimburse his campaign’s financial contributors, other financial damages and to declare the Nov. 2 election null and void thereby ordering a new election to be held as soon as possible.
“First of all, government officials, local government officials and WLNS TV-6 need to be held accountable,” Wilson said.
He is also looking for a minimum of $125,000 in punitive damages which would create a essay style college scholarship to local area high school seniors titled the Truth in Modern Media and First Amendment Fund.
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