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Supreme Court justices ask Legislature to change ballot access law

The Michigan Supreme Court during the day
File Photo
The Michigan Supreme Court building.

A paperwork error regarding party affiliation is enough to keep a political candidate off the ballot. That decision was released Thursday by the Michigan Supreme Court.

The controversy stems from a requirement in Michigan election law. It says when candidates file to run for office, the paperwork includes filling in a box to declare a party affiliation or to declare no party affiliation.

But candidates for non-partisan office—such as judge or city council—often just leave it blank.

And a Supreme Court majority upheld a lower court decision and said that violates the letter of a state election law. Two justices dissented from the majority ruling.

Justice David Viviano agreed with the technical merits of the majority ruling. But he wrote a concurring opinion that said it's not fair to boot a candidate off the ballot on that sort of a technicality.

He wrote “… the underlying legal issue has caused great confusion and resulted in numerous candidates being kept off the ballot. Statutory requirements for appearing on ballots must be followed, but those requirements should be clear and easy to understand.”

He also noted party distinctions are lost on most voters when candidates are seeking officially nonpartisan positions.

“Because the placement of a nonpartisan office is on an entirely separate section of the ballot where no party designation may appear, it makes little sense to require a candidate to designate on the affidavit that he or she is running without party designation,” he wrote.

Viviano called on the Legislature to amend the state’s election law to clear up confusion in future elections.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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