Election Season Has Begun.  Here’s How to Run for Local Office…

Election Season Has Begun.  Here’s How to Run for Local Office in Oakland County

(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 27, 2021)

Oakland County, MI – Election season has begun as citizens across Oakland County have started gathering signatures to run for local office.  Several cities have council and commission races, as well as library board races and possibly ballot proposals.

In Pontiac there is a primary on Aug. 3, though most municipalities either don’t have a primary or they have one that is only triggered if they meet a certain threshold of candidates.  Election Day is Nov. 2 this year, and voters can also take advantage of absentee voting in the weeks leading to the election.

There is also an election May 4 with ballot proposals in Village of Franklin, Northville Public Schools, the School District of the City of Oak Park, and the West Bloomfield School District.

Each city has their own rules based on their charter, so it’s important for a prospective candidate to check with their local Clerk’s office for the specifics.

Marne McGrath has worked in the Ferndale Clerk’s Office since 2006 and has worked her way up to being City Clerk under the mentorship of former Clerk Cherilynn Brown.  She and her team have gone over and above to help candidates, including with the creation of an online guide to make running for office easy.

“We strive to empower candidates by hosting a candidate orientation session after the slate of candidates has been certified to guide them on signage and procedure. We work to familiarize candidates with City Charter and Michigan Election Law and share answers to any candidate questions with all candidates,” McGrath said.   “Each election year we work with the City Attorney to assure we are following current election case law and statute.”

For McGrath, like many Americans, voting is essential.

“I have found my life’s work in election administration. I have a strong personal interest in protecting voting rights for those who are most at risk of being disenfranchised. In 2019 I volunteered with Four Directions, a Native voting rights organization, to help navigate Michigan Election Law and bolster Native turn out in 2020.

“Closer to home, I am proud of Ferndale’s commitment to antiracism and actively work to ensure that race is not hindering any Ferndalian’s voting rights. I am also deeply concerned about providing accessible voting for folks who might be differently abled. I believe we must consider all the factors that can be used to discriminate and lift those barriers. My team works very hard to ensure that every eligible voter has equal access to the ballot and knows we are here when they need us. ”

In Ferndale there are two City Council seats on the ballot with four year terms, and the mayor’s position which has a two year term.  In Ferndale candidates must be at least 25 years old, a US Citizen, and a resident of Ferndale for at least two years immediately preceding the election at which they seek to be elected for office.  Other cities have different requirements.

Candidates can pick up a nominating packet from the City Clerk’s office which includes nominating petitions, calendar of important dates, and other useful information.   Each city has their own requirements for the number of signatures needed.  In Ferndale candidates need no fewer than 100 and no more than 150 signatures.  The state has official petition blanks that you must use. They are available at City Hall—you cannot print them at home. Circulators should not sign until after a sheet is filled. Signatures dated later than the circulators cannot be counted.  You can only sign petitions equal to the number of seats open. Where any name appears on more petitions than there are candidates to be elected to a specific office, that name cannot be counted for any petition for that office.

The state mandated deadline to submit nominating petitions is 105 days prior to the election, by 4:00 p.m. at City Hall. No petitions will be accepted after this date and time.

The City Clerk has 5 days to determine the sufficiency of the signatures. Candidates will be notified in writing immediately if they do not have at least 100 valid signatures. As long as the 105-day at 4 p.m. filing deadline has not passed, candidates may submit more signatures to make up the deficiency.  There are many statutory reasons a signature may not be valid. It is highly recommended to exceed the 100-signature minimum, keeping in mind no more than 150 can be accepted.

“We see more signatures that are unable to be counted than most folks would think. The biggest issue is that petition signers are residents but not registered voters. With the Constitutional changes of Prop. 18-3 and opt out voter registration hopefully that will be less of an issue this year. If new residents aren’t changing their address with the Secretary of State or our office they may not registered to vote here, which can be an inconvenience on Election Day and of course negates their signature on a candidate’s petition,” McGrath said.

The biggest issue, she said, is “not turning in their petitions early enough to gather more signatures if needed after the clerk verifies signatures. Candidates should ask signers if they are registered voters before having them sign. We routinely see approximately 10% of signatures that are not valid due to the signer not being a Ferndale voter or other procedural mistakes.”

There are also financial requirements for candidates that fundraise and spend money to campaign.

Candidates must register with the Michigan Department of State Bureau of Elections, letting them know if they will have funds to report or if the candidate does not raise or spend more than $1,000 they can request a reporting waiver.

Details about campaign finance reporting can be found on the Oakland County Clerk’s website.

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown and her team are ready for this next round of democracy, and have been reflecting on the 2020 elections.

“While nothing grabs headlines quite the way a presidential election does, the decisions made at the community level by local elected officials have arguably the biggest impact on our day-to-day lives,” said Lisa Brown, the Oakland County Clerk/ Register of Deeds. “2020 saw record-breaking voter turnout and interest, but in 2021 some voters will have important choices about candidates for local office in cities and library boards, as well as important local tax and bonding proposals, among other things.”

In addition to preparations for upcoming elections, Clerk Brown and the Elections Division have spent the early months of 2021 completing two audits and a review of the processes and results of the November 2020 election. Michigan election law mandates several steps designed to ensure the integrity of elections and provide additional oversight to make sure the will of the voters is accurately reflected.

Following the canvass and certification of the election results by the Board of County Canvassers, the Oakland County Elections Division conducted a procedural audit to verify that legally required processes were followed by local city and township clerks. These include providing for proof of partisan balance and sufficient training of election workers, documented testing of election equipment, and tamper-proof sealing of ballot containers, among other things. While the Proposition 18-3 amendment to the state constitution required an audit of statewide elections, post-election procedural audits have been regular practice in Oakland County since 2013.

Additionally, 1,247 randomly selected ballots from Oakland County were examined as a part of the “risk limiting audit” statewide exercise conducted in February to further verify the accuracy of voting equipment. In all instances, the accuracy, security and integrity of the November 2020 election was reaffirmed.

“My team works closely with local city and township clerks and their staffs as well as with the Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections to make sure that Michigan’s election laws are followed and that every vote is properly counted,” said Clerk Brown. “The 2020 elections were undoubtedly challenging for clerks and election professionals but even in the face of the global pandemic and record-breaking voter turnout, we saw heightened levels of cooperation and coordination to ensure a process everyone can have faith in.”

Oakland County Times does video interviews with candidates each year. This year our sponsor for the series is the Pontiac Community Foundation.  Candidates will receive information via email about this opportunity to reach voters in their community. For all Oakland County Times election related coverage, click here.

More info:

Oakland County Clerk’s Election Page

City of Ferndale Candidate Info

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