2017-03-16 / Front Page

Appellate court backs Stevenson’s appeal

Christian not on May ballot
By Cheryl Holladay

Houghton Lake Community Schools Board of Education member Kelly Christian’s name will not appear on the May ballot for recall, as a result of an ap­peal made by Roscommon County Clerk Michelle Stevenson.

The Fourth District Court of Appeals, in a March 14 unpublished decision, re­versed Judge Robert W. Bennett’s ruling in 34th Circuit Court that had allowed certain signatures be counted, thereby giving the Committee to Recall the Houghton Lake School Board enough to place Christian on the ballot.

The Court of Appeals said the Circuit Court erred in ordering the signatures be counted because they are invalid under Michigan election law.

Jim Sutika, on behalf of the recall committee, had filed the lawsuit against Stevenson, arguing that 23 recall petition signatures against Christian be counted. During a review by township clerks and Clerk Stevenson, one signature was re­jected because ditto marks were used to indicate the signer’s address, one signa­ture was rejected because the signature was printed and the remaining 21 signa­tures were rejected because it appeared that someone other than the signer had written the signer’s address or date of signing the petition. If those 23 signa­tures were counted, the plaintiff would have had enough signatures to place Christian’s name on the ballot.

Stevenson argued in her appeal that the signatures were invalid under MCL 168.954. The statute says each signer of a recall petition “shall affix his or her signature, address and the date of sign­ing.” According to the Appeals Court ruling, the statute requires each signer of a recall petition to do so. The court noted that it previously upheld the invalidation of signatures in another case because the statute requires the signer to personally write the information on the petition.

In addition, MCL 168.544c(2) says that the failure of an elector to print his or her name in the space prescribed by the Secretary of State or enter a zip code or his or her correct zip code does not affect the validity of the signature, it also says that a printed name located in the space prescribed for printed names does not constitute the elector’s signature.

It also states that, “If an elector does not include his or her signature, his or her street address or rural route, or the date of signing on the petition as re­quired under subsection (1), the elec­tor’s signature is invalid and shall not be counted by a filing official.”

The court, consisting of Judge Peter D. O’Connell, Judge Stephen L. Borrello and Judge Michael J. Kelly, said the leg­islature’s use of the word “shall” denotes mandatory action or direction and that the language in the Michigan statutes “plainly requires electors to personally affix their signatures, street addresses and date of signing for their signatures to be valid. Defendant [Stevenson] deter­mined that for 23 signatures submitted, the signer did not do so.

“Because the signatures are in­valid under the plain language of MCL 168.954 and MCL 168.544c(2), plain­tiff [Sutika, who had filed to run against Christian] has no right to have them counted and defendant has no duty to count them,” the court said.

Stevenson said the Court of Appeals, in an expedited decision, had initially ruled against her in a 2-1 decision. She said she consulted with her attorney March 6 and filed with the Michigan Su­preme Court, which would not hear the case and remanded it back to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals then ruled in her favor, 2-1.

She said she was most concerned about the recall process, but also con­cerned that someone would “unjustly lose their seat.”

“I am grateful that the Court of Ap­peals made a clear decision,” she said. “I have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the election process for all individuals.”

Stevenson said the ballots for the May recall election have been changed, so that Christian’s name and Sutika’s name will not appear on the ballot. The recall committee was successful in obtaining enough signatures for HLCS Board of Education member Kevin Nagel’s name to be place on the ballot; recall supporter Nan Combs filed to run against Nagel.

Stevenson said township clerks will have ballots by March 17.

The Resorter was unable to reach Su­tika, but did speak with Combs.

“I’m not happy with the ruling,” Combs told the Resorter.

She said she intends to concentrate on her campaign, leading up to the May election.

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