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First wave of absentee ballots leave off City Council candidate

By Shoham Geva, Summer Managing News Editor
Published June 30, 2014

This story has been updated to reflect new information from the county clerk's office and the Michigan Department of State.

The Ann Arbor City Clerk’s office began processing and re-sending almost 400 absentee ballots to Ward 3 voters Monday after an error left one candidate off the ballot.

Bob Dascola, who, along with Julie Grand and Sam McMullen, is running in the Democratic primary for the Ward 3 City Council Seat being vacated by mayoral candidate Christopher Taylor, was left off the absentee ballots due to a proofing error, according to the county clerk’s office.

The county was notified of the mistake in the Ward 3 ballots Friday afternoon. Edward Golembiewski, Washtenaw County chief deputy clerk and director of elections, wrote in an e-mail interview Sunday evening that the new ballots should be delivered by noon on Monday to the city clerk’s office. He added that preparations were already under way on Friday to mail new ballots out as soon as they arrived.

Monday morning, the city clerk's office said all corrected ballots would be sent out today. Along with the new ballots, a letter of instruction to voters will also be sent. The city clerk's office said, as of Monday morning, they had not received back any of the incorrect ballots.

Originally on Friday, the Michigan Department of State issued a statement that said according to their procedures, all other votes on the ballot, excluding the Ward 3 City Council vote, will be counted if a voter only returns the first ballot. If they return the second, corrected ballot, those are the votes that will be counted. However, in an announcement Monday evening, the department modified their position, and said votes cast in the Ward 3 elections on the incorrect ballots will also be counted if a voter does not return the second ballot.

In a letter to the city clerk from the state's Bureau of Elections Monday afternoon, Christopher M. Thomas, director of elections, cited concerns about voter disenfranchisement if the votes were not counted.

"Each of the voters is being given an opportunity to cast a replacement ballot and every attempt should be made to encourage these voters to return the replacement ballot," Thomas wrote. "However, there may be voters who would not change their vote in Ward 3 or will be out of town and unable to return the replacement ballot by Election Day."

The letter also stated that the statement issued Friday evening which indicated that the votes wouldn't be counted was based on a prior case that had now been determined inapplicable to the situation.

In an interview Monday evening, Bob Dascola's attorney, Tom Wieder, called the decision mindboggling.

“We think that’s a totally ridiculous way of handling it,” Wieder said. “The ballots that they’re talking about didn’t have one of candidates. I don’t know how you can count that.”

He said the campaign would pursue legal action in reaction to the decision.

The printing error stemmed from the fact that Dascola was not on the original set of candidates provided to the third-party company that creates the ballots for the county, Government Business Systems, because his eligibility to run was in question due to a disputed residency requirement for candidates in the Ann Arbor City Charter. The requirement mandates all City Council candidates have to be both registered voters in the city and a resident of the ward in which they are running for at least a year before holding office, which Dascola did not fulfill. However, Dascola argued in a federal lawsuit that the residency requirements were not enforceable because they had been nullified by the city in the 1970s.

After the court ruled in his favor May 20, his name was added to the ballot. However, the city of Ypsilanti then requested that the ballot be changed to remove uncontested City Council races, per city regulations. When the change was made, GBS accidentally removed the Ann Arbor City Council races instead of the Ypsilanti races and, in fixing that error, used the original set of candidates for Ann Arbor, which did not include Dascola. The mistake wasn’t caught in the last round of the proofing processes and the first wave of absentee ballots, sent out June 20 according to the Ann Arbor Chronicle, did not include Dascola’s name.

Golembiewski said the expense of reprinting the ballots would be $2,739. He added that following a conversation Monday, GBS has agreed to pay half of that cost.