Campaigns Roll On Amid Ward 3 Ballot Issue

In the Aug. 5 Democratic primary elections for Ann Arbor city council, a possible disagreement might be emerging over how to count absentee ballots that were incorrectly printed for the Ward 3 race. Appearing correctly on the printed ballots were Julie Grand and Samuel McMullen. However, Bob Dascola – who had filed a successful lawsuit against the city in order to be a candidate – was mistakenly left off the ballots.

The incorrectly printed ballots were sent out to about 400 absentee voters last week. But on Monday, June 30, replacement ballots and a letter of instructions were sent, telling voters about the printing error. Voters who have not yet voted were told in the city’s letter that they should destroy the previous ballot and vote with the replacement ballot. Voters who have already sent in their absentee ballots were told in the letter to “please vote and return this replacement ballot in the enclosed envelope.”

Last Friday, the Michigan Dept. of State had indicated that if someone mails in only the incorrect ballot, then their Ward 3 vote on the incorrect ballot should not be counted. Their votes in other races, however, should be counted. [.pdf of June 27, 2014 email from Michigan Dept. of State] But by Monday, June 30, the Michigan Dept. of State had reached a different conclusion. That new conclusion was this: If a voter submits only an incorrect ballot, then their vote in the Ward 3 race will count. [.pdf of June 30, 2014 email from the Michigan Dept. of State]

The letter sent by the city of Ann Arbor to voters who received replacement ballots does not appear to take a position on the question of whether a Ward 3 vote will be counted if it is submitted only on an incorrect ballot. [.pdf of June 30, 2014 city of Ann Arbor letter template]

Meanwhile, Dascola’s attorney, Tom Wieder, told The Chronicle in a telephone interview Monday that “if we do not receive an affirmative assurance that those ballots will not be counted, then we’ll be back in federal court.” Wieder was the attorney who litigated the successful lawsuit that Dascola brought against the city, in order to be allowed on the ballot in the first place. The federal court found the city charter’s eligibility requirements to be unenforceable.

Meanwhile, all three candidates are campaigning for support from Ward 3 voters.

Julie Grand, who fell about 60 votes short of Stephen Kunselman’s total in the Ward 3 primary last year, told The Chronicle in a telephone interview that she’s been knocking doors and hearing some of the same themes that she heard from residents last time around, along with some new topics. Infrastructure issues like roads and pipes were on voters’ minds last year, but this year possibly more so – because of the unusually harsh winter. New this year is a sentiment she’s heard from some voters, who’ve volunteered that they might be willing to pay an additional road tax to address the condition of streets.

Regarding other topics, Grand is starting to hear some voters mention the idea of a city income tax. Affordable housing is also a familiar topic in southeast Ann Arbor, she said, and she’s heard interest and concerns from residents about the potential for affordable housing at Washtenaw County’s former juvenile center on Platt Road. The Burton Commons project, near US-23, is also a point of discussion, she said, especially for the immediate neighbors.

Dascola is hearing some of the same sentiments from voters as Grand: “I can tell you this, the big one is: ‘Fix the roads!’” Some voters want the loose leaf collection service in the fall restored, he reported, and residents generally feel like some basic city services have gone away. He’s heard from some voters that they want their taxes lowered and they’re sick of the city wasting money on “stupid things like studies that aren’t needed.” He’s also heard from some voters that they’re upset about the high-rises that are getting “thrown up” in the downtown area. Dascola said he’d spoken to an older resident who’d lived in Ann Arbor his whole life and didn’t like it any more – but he was too old to move away.

Like Dascola and Grand, McMullen is hearing a lot about the condition of roads: “Every other door, it’s the roads,” he reported. Out in the ward farther away from downtown, he said, voters have expressed the sentiment that the city doesn’t pay attention to them. The farther you get from downtown, he said, the more basic concerns become – about power outages and the adequacy of snow plowing. In Upper Burns Park, he’d heard some interest in traffic calming measures, McMullen reported. In student areas, a worry that’s expressed is high rents. In near-student areas, he said, the worry is about students – trash left on lawns and the like. He’s also heard from some voters that they think the University of Michigan should pay taxes.

There is no incumbent in this race. The current Ward 3 councilmember who holds the seat, Christopher Taylor, is running for mayor instead. There are no Republicans contesting the seat. Independent candidates have until July 17 to file petitions for the Nov. 4 general election.

The three Democratic candidates are expected to participate in League of Women Voters forum on Tuesday, July 8 from 9-9:30 p.m. at the Community Television Network studios on South Industrial. The forum will be broadcast live on CTN Channel 19 and available on-demand at the CTN website.


  1. July 1, 2014 at 9:36 am | permalink

    So what will be the position of mayoral and judicial candidates whose vote totals might be affected if the defective ballots are not counted?

    Many of our races have hinged on relatively few votes in recent years.

  2. July 1, 2014 at 9:56 am | permalink

    Re: [1] That’s not an actual worry. There’s not a dispute about whether votes in other races besides Ward 3 will be counted from the incorrectly printed ballots. Last Friday, the Dept. of State’s view was that if someone submitted only an incorrectly printed ballot, their votes in other races would count, but their vote in the Ward 3 race would not. That’s what Wieder is arguing for. And now the Dept. of State’s view is that even Ward 3 votes, not just votes from other races, from incorrectly printed ballots can count.

  3. July 1, 2014 at 10:42 am | permalink

    But how will election workers know which ballots to count? Suppose I am a Ward 3 voter (which I’m not), have received my ballot and put it aside, ignored the new ballot or confused it with the old one, wait until much later in the month to send it in (there are some confusing judicial races and a state proposition to ponder) – how will election workers know which to count? Presumably when a second ballot is returned, it renders the old one completely inoperative, else there would be double counting on other races.

    Note that ballots are only identified as to the voter on the outside envelope. The inside envelope is removed prior to ballot counting and separated from that information. So how to distinguish the different ballots? Unless the (defective) ballot numbers have been recorded? But then how to ensure that a voter who has already returned a defective ballot and has the first one disallowed has the second ballot counted for all races? I suppose that envelopes can be scrutinized for the postmark and duplicate ballots for an individual voter can be put aside based on that date.

    I worked at elections in the past. It may look sleepy but this looks like a high-tension operation to me. Getting a headache just thinking about it.

  4. July 1, 2014 at 10:56 am | permalink

    Re: “… how will election workers know which to count?” While this challenge is not trivial, I don’t think it’s rocket science. Summarized in vague fashion by the Dept. of State: “The clerk would have a way to track whether the second ballot is returned and have controls in place to ensure only one ballot per voter is counted.”

  5. By Tom Wieder
    July 1, 2014 at 2:05 pm | permalink

    I think Vivian’s concerns will be addressed rather easily, and she answered it with her own question. Yes, ballot numbers have been recorded for the defective ballots. A second series of numbers was assigned to the replacement ballots. The Clerk’s office only needs to determine if both ballots sent to the same voter have been returned. If so, the defective first ballot will be set aside as a “spoiled ballot,” and the replacement ballot will be processed for counting.

  6. By Ed Golembiewski
    July 1, 2014 at 4:19 pm | permalink

    Mr. Wieder is correct. A different numbering sequence was applied to replacement ballots. As in every election, the unique ballot number appears on the stub of the ballot was well as the return envelope in which it is submitted by the voter.

    In the event both ballots are returned, only the replacement will be counted.

    The issue is moot if only the replacement ballot is returned.

    -Ed Golembiewski, Director of Elections