by Curt Guyette
Detroit mayoral candidate Tom Barrow is claiming that opponent Mike Duggan’s name should be kept off the August primary ballot because Duggan failed to meet the one-year residency requirement mandated by the City Charter.
Barrow made the allegation in a complaint filed with Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey on May 20. Attorney Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, an election-law expert advising the Duggan campaign, said this is part of a series of challenges by Barrow that “lack merit.”
Resolution of the dispute could boil down to a matter of interpretation. As Barrow points out in his complaint, the charter states:
"A person seeking elective office must be a citizen of the United States, a resident and a qualified and registered voter of the City of Detroit for one (1) year at the time of filing for office and retain that status throughout their tenure in any such elective office.”
A Metro Times review of public records confirmed Barrow’s claim that Duggan, who had lived in Livonia until last year, registered to vote in Detroit on April 16, 2012. However, he filed to run for mayor on April 2, 2013 — clearly less than one year.
But, as Hollowell noted, the actual filing deadline wasn’t until May 14. If the filing deadline, rather than the filing date, is used as the demarcation point, then Duggan meets the requirement.
Barrow contends that the language in the charter is clear, and that it should be strictly adhered to. If that’s the case, then it could well be as Barrow said: “Duggan is as good as toast. He won’t be on the ballot.”
Hollowell, on the other hand, contends that the courts tend to take a broad view when it comes to election law. The thinking is that it’s better to let voters, rather than judges, play the key role in deciding who participates in elections.
Jocelyn Benson, dean of the Wayne State University Law School, told us that Barrow doesn’t appear to have much of a case.
“It’s nonsensical to interpret the provision as strictly as the Barrow campaign is suggesting,” said Benson, a member of the Detroit Board of Ethics. “In my view, as long as the candidate is a resident of the city of Detroit for a year prior to the filing deadline, that should be sufficient to comply with the law.”