November Ballot: Eligibility for Ann Arbor Officials

After a federal judge ruled earlier this year that eligibility requirements for elected officers in the city of Ann Arbor’s charter are not legally enforceable, the city council has now voted to put eligibility requirements on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot for voters to decide.

Action came at the council’s July 21, 2014 meeting. The council had one additional meeting on its calendar at which it could have voted to place the resolution on the ballot – on Aug. 7. That’s the last council meeting before the Aug. 12 deadline for certifying ballot language to the Washtenaw County clerk’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 draft of the new charter language and the ballot proposal was made public two weeks ago in advance of the council’s July 7 meeting. But that draft did not appear on the council’s agenda for that meeting. A different draft appeared on the council’s July 21 agenda. A key difference between the two versions was that the July 21 version took an approach that split the question into two different ballot proposals – one dealing with elected officials and the other dealing with appointed officials. The splitting of the proposal into two questions came at the suggestion of the state attorney general’s office.

On the afternoon of Friday, July 18, the city attorney’s office was working with the state attorney general’s office on the wording of the charter amendment and the ballot proposal. The wording of the draft to be considered by the council at its July 21 meeting was initially not accurately reflected in the online agenda, because words that were supposed to have been struck through were not struck through. By late Saturday night, the wording had been corrected.

The final version approved by the council, which reflected some additional minor changes, was circulated to councilmembers about a half hour before the meeting started: [.pdf of 6:30 p.m. July 21, 2014 version]

Details of the council’s deliberations on July 21 are included in The Chronicle’s live updates, filed from council chambers during the meeting.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.