HOLLY, Michigan – Resident Beverly Lauinger was confident that she had completed her nominating petitions properly for the Holly Township Clerk position when she turned them into the Holly Township offices by the May 15 deadline, but apparently, she didn’t.
Lauinger, 52 decided to run against long-time Holly Township Clerk Karin Winchester in the upcoming Aug. 7 election, obtaining 22 valid nomination signatures.
On Thursday, Lauinger received a letter from Winchester stating that the township was rejecting her petition, and would not be placing her name on the ballot.
“In reviewing your nominating petitions, it was found that the required election date was not filled in prior to circulation of your petitions,” Winchester wrote. “For that reason, your nominating petitions are declared insufficient and your name will not appear on the Aug. 7, 2012 election ballot.” Along with the letter, copies of Lauinger’s petitions were returned for her records.
Having submitted the petition on the morning of May 14, Lauinger said she specifically asked Winchester to review the forms for accuracy and completion.
“I specifically asked her because I had a question about something else,” Lauinger said. “Had she notified me or told me then, I easily would have been able to start over and obtain the signatures after including the election date on the petition.”
Winchester disputes Lauinger’s claims.
“She had several questions about her affidavits and I answered those,” Winchester said. “I didn’t specifically look at the petition at that time – she just asked me if I would let her know if she had enough signatures.”
Lauinger noted that at the top of the returned copy of her petitions was the notation, “22 signatures checked, KB, 5/13/12.”
“How can that be when I turned the petitions in on May 14?” Lauinger asked. “I just find it rather ironic that they’re rejecting my petitions because I left off the election date when they clearly didn’t write down the correct date that they verified the signatures, either.”
Winchester said the erroneous date notation was a clerical error made by Deputy Clerk Kristy Beelby.
According to the petition circulation procedures issued by the director of elections for the state of Michigan, the validity of signatures on a petition may be affected for many reasons including if the date of the primary election isn’t included. Winchester said in addition to the election date snafu, eight of Lauinger’s 30 signatures were rejected because the signers resided in a different township.
“The law states that she cannot circulate petitions in more than one township, and she circulated them in two others besides Holly Township,” Winchester said.
Winchester said Lauinger’s petitions were reviewed a total of three times by herself and Beelby before the election date omission was caught.
“I didn’t actually notice it until the evening of May 16,” Winchester said, noting that this is the first time she has ever had to reject a petition for that reason. “I’ve never had to do this before,” she said. “But when it comes to elections, you can never be too careful – you have to follow the procedures to the letter of the law.”
Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds Bill Bullard said the matter is out of his hands.
“My thoughts are really that it doesn’t involve the county at this point,” Bullard said. “The township is the filing agency and if they see reason to reject the petitions, it’s their responsibility to do so.”
Bullard said that leaving the election date off a petition prior to obtaining signatures may seem trivial to some, but that he doesn’t know what the law specifically says about the issue.
“There are a lot of technical aspects in election law,” Bullard said. “Maybe this is the first time something like this has happened – maybe it’s a new situation, I just don’t know.”
Had the same issue presented itself in Oakland County, Bullard said he would have first sought legal advice on whether to add the election date or reject the petition.
“We would have had to run that by our attorney,” Bullard said. “Each statute is different – election law is incredibly technical, so we would have first checked with the attorney, and then taken the appropriate action.”
Bullard said Lauinger’s only hope now is to file a lawsuit with the Oakland County Circuit Court on the matter, and obtain an immediate hearing.
While the Michigan Bureau of Elections may override the township’s decision, it’s not certain whether that will actually happen.
“I am currently petitioning for a determination review of my nominating petitions with the Michigan Elections Bureau,” Lauinger said. “If I’m not happy with the outcome of that, then I plan on filing a lawsuit with the Oakland County Circuit Court.”