Ferndale Ballot Question Would Clarify How Nominating Petition Signatures are Counted
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 14, 2015)
Voters in Ferndale will be faced with a Charter Amendment proposal on the Nov. 3, 2015 ballot regarding the way signatures are counted on nominating petitions. The wording on the ballot says “This Charter amendment would modify the nominating petition deadline and process for counting nominating petitions where a voter signs more petitions than the number of candidates to be elected.”
The proposed change was brought forward by Councilperson Greg Pawlica after learning about the issue. We asked Pawlica a few questions to explain:
- What are the changes proposed?
Voters are being asked to support a change to the charter regarding how a voter’s signature is counted when a candidate’s petition is submitted to the city. State law dictates that a registered voter can only sign the number of candidate petitions equal to the number of seats available. For example, if there are two council seats open and there are five candidates interested in running for those two seats, a registered voter can only sign two of the five candidate petitions. State of Michigan law dictates that if a registered voter (in this instance) signs three or more candidate petitions, then the first two signatures (based on date signed) are valid signatures and any signatures after the first two are invalid. However Ferndale’s City Charter, using the same scenario, all three signatures of the registered voter are invalid. A YES vote in November would align the City’s Charter with the State and allow that registered voter’s first two signatures to remain valid.
- Is this a citizen petition or did council put this on ballot?
This is an item that City Council, specifically I, put forward.
This is one of those obscure issues that really impacts the voter and the electoral process that the average voter wouldn’t be aware of if s/he didn’t know the city’s charter very well. I believe that it is our responsibility as elected officials to ensure that every citizen’s voice is heard, even if that voice is just a signature on a piece of paper.
- Did this come about from a specific incident or concern?
The issue surfaced through a very casual conversation I had with members of our city staff. We were talking about petitions being turned in by candidates for this year’s city council and mayor seats. The conversation turned to the validity of signatures. I was aware of the state law regarding the signature validation, but I was quickly made aware that Ferndale’s Charter does not align with the State law. Upon further investigation, I found the section of the City Charter that confirmed the difference. At a July City Council meeting, I raised the issue to the public and to my fellow council members, and asked the city lawyer to draft a ballot proposal to change the City Charter. That ballot language proposal was voted on by council on July 27th and will appear on the November 3 election ballot.
- Anything else people should know?
Some may feel that if a registered voter signs more petitions than there are seats available, then all their signatures SHOULD be invalid. Personally, I believe that every person has the right to run for office and be on a ballot; that voters should have the opportunity to choose between many candidates, and that a minor error on the part of a registered voter, who might have forgotten how many petitions they signed shouldn’t eject a potential candidate from the ballot. This issue is about inclusion and ensuring that a voter has choice, and their voice is not silenced.
Aside from this issue impacting the voters and candidates, this issue also impacts city staff in the City Clerk’s office. The City of Ferndale utilizes software programs created by the State to validate registered voter signatures. These programs were created based on Michigan’s state law.
Because Ferndale’s law differs from the state’s law, staff has to manually review and remove additional duplicate signatures when they are discovered, This takes additional time, energy, and resources away from staff being able to perform other election related duties.
For more election-related stories and information, check out our Election Information Page at https://oaklandcounty115.com/category/election-information/.