Recall petition errors won’t invalidate signatures

ESCANABA — A copyist’s error in the recall petitions for Commission Bob Barron will not invalidate the 1,235 signatures collected to place his name on the May 2024 ballot.

“It’s part of the process. As we’re reviewing everything right now we’re going to continue looking at other options,” said Barron upon learning the signatures would not be invalidated en masse.

The error, which according to Barron was included on all but one of the 150

pages of signatures, was the omission of a portion of Barron’s name. While the language approved by both the Delta County Election Commission and a circuit court judge stated “On February 7, 2023 Commissioner Robert W. Barron voted to terminate Administrator Emily DeSalvo’s employment contract,” the petitions that were circulated across District 3 stated “On February 7, 2023 Commissioner Barron voted to terminate Administrator Emily DeSalvo’s employment contract.”

Barron’s full name was still included on the petition, just not in the portion explaining the reason for the recall.

According to Commission Chair Dave Moyle — who said there was a misspelling of the word “administrator” on the petitions for his own recall — the county received an opinion Thursday from County Attorney Scott Graham that the difference in language was not enough to disqualify the petitions.

“He says that the petitions can move forward as they are, which to me proves he’s got the best interest of the people of Delta County in mind,” said Moyle, adding that the opinion proved Grahm was not in his “back pocket.”

This is not the first time an error in copying ballot language has taken place in Michigan.

In 2019, nearly 14,000 signatures to recall state Representative Larry Inman were thrown out by the state Bureau of Elections after the word “right” was omitted from the phrase “attempted extortion under color of official right,” a reference to a felony charge he faced.

“While the omission of one word may seem inconsequential and the rejection of a recall petition on such grounds as excessively technical and harsh, the recall statute does not authorize the bureau to excuse differences between the reasons for recall approved by the board and those printed on the recall petitions,” Sally Williams, then-director of elections for the bureau wrote in a letter to the organizers of the recall effort seeking Inman’s removal.

Williams rejected the signatures, but the recall and the signatures was later revived by the Michigan Supreme Court, who found the reason given for the recall wasn’t substantially different than the reason approved by state officials.

Ultimately, the effort to put Inman’s name on the ballot failed because too few valid signatures were submitted. Inman was acquitted on the extortion charge and did not seek reelection.

Prior to Thursday, Barron signalled he intended to challenge the petitions on the basis of the missing language, which would have been the second time the language used on the petition would have been challenged since the county’s election commission approved the version with Barron’s full name in July.

By law, the Barron, Moyle and Commissioners Bob Petersen, who is also the subject of recall efforts, had a ten-day window to appeal election commission’s decision. During that period, petition sponsors could not collect signatures. Within three days of the election commission’s decision, all three commissioners had filed appeals, blocking signature collection until a circuit court judge could hear the issue.

Because the commissioners are directly involved with funding for the 47th Circuit Court, Judge John Economopoulos recused himself from the case. The case was then assigned to Judge Christopher S. Ninomiya, of the 41st Circuit Court, which covers Dickinson, Iron and Menominee counties.

Due to both the availability of Delta County’s circuit court courtroom and Ninomiya, the hearing did not take place until Aug. 7, four days after the deadline for signatures to be turned in to the county clerk’s office to put the commissioners’ names on the November ballot.

“The recall language is crystal clear, and the reason for the recall is specifically and precisely stated. It is surprising to this court that anyone could suggest otherwise,” Ninomiya told the commissioners during the hearing, which he described as “a frivolous legal appeal” and a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.

Despite Ninomiya’s ruling allowing recall petitions to circulate, missing the deadline for the Nov. 7 ballot pushed any recall of the commissioners to the May 2024 ballot.

While the signatures on the recall petitions will not be invalidated due to the copyist’s error, Barron may still challenge the individual signatures. The signatures could be invalidated for a number of reasons, such as being from people who live outside his district or errors in the way residents filled out the petitions. Only 1,001 of the signatures must be valid for the recall to move forward.

Signatures for Petersen’s recall have not yet been turned into the county clerk’s office, but challenges to individual signatures on Barron and Moyle’s petitions are expected.

“I will be challenging many, many — up to 200 signatures, and I will be challenging the creditability of some of the circulators because I’ve hired a handwriting analysis expert and I’m going to let them do the speaking,” Moyle told the Daily Press Thursday.

Only 666 of the 823 signatures submitted for Moyle must be valid.

If either commissioner is successful in challenging enough of the signatures for their recall to stop the process, recall organizers will not have another chance. The terms for all three commissioners are up in November of 2024, and by law, the commissioners cannot be recalled in the last six months of their terms.


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