A successful election lawsuit filed against the city of Ann Arbor led last month to city council action to place a charter amendment in front of voters on Nov. 4, 2014. The amendments – which establish eligibility requirements for elected and appointed officials – were placed on the fall ballot in a July 21, 2014 vote of the council.
And now the ballot language for the two proposed Ann Arbor city charter amendments has been certified by Michigan’s attorney general as meeting the requirements of the Home Rule City Act. The AG’s office communicated its conclusion in an Aug. 8, 2014 letter to Gov. Rick Snyder’s office.
The existing charter language imposes a one-year durational requirement of voter registration on elected and appointed officials in the city. But the federal court ruled that the city’s requirements were not enforceable, because they had been struck down as unconstitutional in two different court cases dating from the early 1970s. Similar durational requirements have – in the intervening years – been found constitutional in various jurisdictions. However, the court ruled on May 20 this year that the city could not enforce its requirements against Ward 3 Democratic primary candidate Bob Dascola – because the city had not re-enacted its requirement using a standard legislative process. The placement of a ballot proposal in front of voters on Nov. 4 will use the legislative process of a popular referendum on the charter to establish eligibility requirements that are enforceable.
The language approved by the council at its July 21 meeting imposes a requirement that in order to be mayor, someone would need to be a registered voter in the city, and to serve on the city council someone would need to be a registered voter in the ward they seek to represent – at the time they submit their paperwork to appear on the ballot.
For example, a potential candidate for the city council would need to be a registered voter in the ward they seek to represent at the time they submit their qualifying signatures to the city clerk. And a potential candidate for mayor would need to be a registered voter in the city at the time they submit their qualifying signatures to the city clerk.
With paperwork for partisan primaries due in April – for November elections – the new requirements would translate practically speaking to something similar to a six-and-a-half-month durational requirement. For independent candidates, that timeframe would be closer to three and a half months. In the case of a vacancy that needs to be filled by appointment, the new charter requirement would require the person to be a registered voter in the geographic area they are being appointed to represent – at the time of appointment.
A second amendment to the charter to be decided by voters on Nov. 4 would acknowledge state law with respect to residency requirements for paid appointed officials. With a few exceptions, local municipalities can’t impose geographic requirements on the residence of paid officials. The amendment would also stipulate that unpaid appointed officials must be registered voters in the city, unless that requirement is waived by a seven-vote majority on the 11-member city council.