By Paul Rozycki
After more than a week of speculation about who should be on the ballot for Flint’s mayoral primary, Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Farah ruled on Monday June 17 that all four of the candidates, initially approved by the Flint City Clerk Inez Brown, could appear on the August ballot.
Speaking to a packed court room, Farah ruled that in spite of problems with their affidavits, Greg Eason, State Rep. Sheldon Neeley, businessman Donald Pfeiffer, and incumbent Mayor Karen Weaver, all have the right to be on the ballot in August.
Farah’s ruling allows the county to proceed with printing ballots for the August primary. Last week Farah had issued a temporary restraining order blocking the printing of ballots while the suit from mayoral candidate Don Pfeiffer was considered.
City Clerk Brown approved all four to be on the ballot after the initial filing deadline on April 26. Later, the county Election Commission voted to remove Eason’s name because of flaws in his initial forms.
The Genesee County Election Commission is composed of County Clerk-Registrar John Gleason, County Treasurer Deb Cherry and Chief Probate Judge Jennie Barkey.
However, following the Election Commissions decision, the Michigan Secretary of State’s office responded, saying that the authority to keep or remove candidates from the city ballot rested with the city clerk, and not the county Election Commission.
In response, Pfieffer filed suit in Genesee County Circuit Court to remove Eason, Neeley, and Weaver for errors in their affidavit of identity. There was a possibility that several, or all of the candidates, could be been removed, opening the door to a write-in primary in August.
The claims were that Mayor Weaver failed to specify on her form whether or not her name had changed in the last decade.
It was also claimed that Sheldon Neeley had checked the wrong box, which indicated that that he was running for a judicial position, rather than mayor. There is no judicial race up this year, and Neeley isn’t an attorney, as required for judicial positions.
The third claim, the one which started the whole controversy, was that Greg Eason had checked the ‘no’ box when asked if he was a citizen, met the requirements for mayor, or was a registered voter in Flint. After the official deadline, Eason filed an amended affidavit and corrected the errors.
After hearing testimony and legal arguments from attorneys for Pfeiffer, the other candidates, the Election Commission, and the City of Flint, Farah ruled that the errors that Neeley and Weaver had made were “acceptable mistakes” and that “none of the alleged infirmities on the affidavits of identity are fatal” and didn’t change the basic nature or validity of their applications.
There were more questions about whether or not Eason’s application, and the amendments to it, were enough to disqualify him from appearing on the ballot. In particular, there were concerns about the fact that his corrected amendments came after the deadline, and the problems that could present in the future for any other application deadlines. But, citing a lack of clarity in the law, and the importance of voter’s choice, Farah said that Eason’s name should also be on the ballot.
In the end, Judge Farah said that the errors were not enough to deny voters the right to select their candidates for mayor. According to the County Clerk John Gleason, in order to accommodate overseas and absentee ballots, the deadline is Tuesday June 18. While those supporting Pfieffer were not pleased with the ruling, there was no immediate decision on any possible appeals.
A primary election forum is tentatively scheduled for July 3 at the Berston Field House, as part of the Tom Sumner program. All the candidates have been invited.
EVM staff writer and political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.