Barrow vs. Duggan: Right on or write in?

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Detroit mayoral candidate Tom Barrow’s efforts to keep Mike Duggan out of the race has heads swiveling as if it were a tennis match as the tactical volleying goes back and forth.

First Barrow claims that Duggan is legally ineligible to be on the ballot because he didn’t meet the City Charter’s residency requirements because he filed to run 50 weeks after  moving to the city instead of 52. The Detroit Election Commission rules in favor of Duggan and says he’s a legitimate candidate and that his name should appear on the ballot because, although he filed early, he'd been living in the city for more than a year on the date of the filing deadline. Barrow then challenges that ruling in Circuit Court and wins. Duggan appeals and loses. Rather than take his case to the state Supreme Court, Duggan says he’s calling it quits, claiming his campaign has suffered too much political damage as a result of the controversy.

So it looks as if Duggan is out of the race — until a few days later, when he announces that he’s back in, running as a write-in candidate.

With the ball back in his court — in a match were there’s clearly no love lost — Barrow responds by serving notice to Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey in the form  of a registered  letter he says just went out.

“As you are aware, contained in Judge Popke's order in Barrow v. City of Detroit and Mike Duggan for Mayor Committee which was affirmed by the Michigan Court of Appeals, Mr. Duggan was barred from the August 6, 2013 ballot. The order also clearly stated, in plain language, that Mr. Duggan is ineligible to be a candidate in the August 6th primary election,” writes Barrow.

Barrow then cites this passage from Popke’s ruling to substantiate his contention:

“IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that Michael Duggan is ineligible to be a candidate for Mayor of the City of Detroit in the August 6, 2013 primary election.”

Barrow also delivers a hard shot directly at Winfrey:

“In the Barrow case, both the Third Circuit Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals admonished your office and the Commission for interpreting plain language rules outside of their clear and intended meaning, and this instance, once again, presents an opportunity for your office to conduct its ministerial duties properly and in accordance with a plain reading of the law.”

To be honest, both Popke’s ruling and the decision by the Court of Appeals to uphold it, took us by surprise. It has long been our understanding that, when it comes to election law, the well-established precedent is to have an expansive rather than narrow interpretation. The idea is that, when at all possible, decisions about who’s fit to serve should be left to voters rather than judges.

That’s certainly the position we held last year when right-wingers were using a technical dispute over font sizes as a pretense for keeping off the ballot a measure seeking to overturn the state’s emergency manager law.

So, even though a lot of lefties aren’t all that enamored with Duggan, the rulings by Popke and the Court of Appeals came as a disappointment here.

The case for keeping Duggan from running as a write-in candidate is even more farfetched. He clearly lived in Detroit, and registered as a voter, for more than one year prior to the filing deadline. So, in that regard, he is undeniably eligible to run for mayor.

Barrow, obviously, sees things differently, telling Winfrey:

should Mr. Duggan attempt to present documentation to your office in furtherance of a write-in campaign for the August 6, 2013 primary election, you are required, by order of the court, to reject such request.”

Failure to do so, he promises Winfrey, will bring dire consequences:

“Moreover, should he do so, you will have until high noon on Wednesday, July 3rd to reject that request. Failure to do so by the time and date set will result in an immediate motion for ‘contempt of court’ being filed with the Circuit Court seeking sanctions for both you and your office.”

You have to admire Barrow’s flair for the dramatic. High noon, indeed.

Obviously, given what happened regarding the initial decisions to keep Duggan off the ballot, our understanding of election law doesn’t exactly mesh with the view held by at least some judges — people that, we’re inclined to believe, actually attended law school.

Even so, we’d be completely shocked if the courts stepped back into this controversy and ruled that Duggan doesn’t have the legal standing to mount a write-in campaign. We can understand why Barrow, who trails Duggan badly in the polls, would want to use the courts to knock his opponent out of the match. Democracy,  however, is best served if Duggan is allowed to run.

— Curt Guyette


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