Local Government Law Bulletin April 20, 2020 Bradley A. Fowler

Federal Court Delays Filing Deadlines and Relaxes Ballot Access Rules for Some Candidates in Michigan – Townships Unaffected

On April 20, 2020, a United States District Judge from the Eastern District of Michigan issued an Order (the “Order”) extending ballot petition filing deadlines and changing the rules regarding signatures for some candidates in Michigan.

The Order stems from a lawsuit filed by a candidate for the United States Congress in the 11th Congressional District against the Governor, Secretary of State and Director of the Michigan Bureau of Elections contending that the Governor’s Stay-at-Home Order denied him the opportunity to collect the required number of signatures he needed to meet the April 21, 2020 filing deadline under state law, and that consequently he will be barred from having his name appear on the August 4, 2020 primary ballot. The Court agreed with the plaintiff and held that “[u]nder these unique historical circumstances” the State’s actions in the form of enforcing both the Stay-at-Home Order and the statutory ballot-access requirements, operated in tandem to impose a severe burden on the plaintiff’s ability to seek elected office and violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association, equal protection, and due process of law. Consequently, the Court provided relief to the plaintiff and other similarly situated candidates for office by extending the filing deadline for nominating petitions from April 21, 2020 to May 8, 2020; reducing the minimum number of signatures required under State law by 50%; and requiring the State to promulgate regulations to permit electronic signatures on nominating petitions.

The Order, however, does not apply to all candidates in Michigan. It only applies to candidates who: 1) filed a statement of organization under Federal Election Law or established a candidate committee under the Michigan Campaign Finance Law before March 10, 2020; and 2) are required by the Michigan Election Law to file a nominating petition by April 21, 2020 for the purpose of appearing on the August 4, 2020 primary election ballot; and 3) do not have the option under the Michigan Election Law to appear on the ballot through payment of a filing fee in lieu of filing a nominating petition. As a practical matter, the only offices which satisfy these qualifications are: U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, judicial offices (for non-incumbents only), and any city office where the city charter does not allow the option to file with a fee in lieu of petitions.

Importantly, under State law, candidates for all county and township offices have an option to file for office with a filing fee in lieu of nominating petitions. Therefore, the Order does NOT apply to any county or township office and the filing deadline for petitions for those offices remains April 21, 2020.

The attorneys at Mika Meyers have considered the terms and applicability of this Order and are prepared to answer questions from our clients who act as filing officials for offices for which nominating petitions are due for the August 4 primary election.

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