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Detroit group wants to change the structure of the city's election commission

steve carmody
Michigan Radio
Citizens for Detroit's Future announced they're going to sponsor a ballot initiative to make three independently elected seats on Detroit's election commission.

A Detroit group called Citizens for Detroit's Future announced Wednesday that they will sponsor a ballot initiative to change the city’s charter to add three independent seats to Detroit’s election commission.

Citizens for Detroit's Future has noticed conflicts of interest among its current election commission officers. The commission is currently made up of the city clerk, the city council president, and a city lawyer appointed by the Detroit mayor—all people who either hold an elected office or were appointed by an elected official. Tom Barrow, president of Citizens for Detroit's Future, says this makes the current commissioners unable to hold an impartial review of the city's elections.

Barrow says election irregularities have been commonplace in Detroit over the last two decades. City Clerk candidate Garin Gilchrist narrowly lost his election to incumbent Janice Winfrey last year, and when he asked for the votes to be recounted, over 7,000 votes couldn't be retallied. Barrow says it's events like this that have pushed his group to take a stand. 

“Because they’re so conflicted, people have decided to take this bull by the horns themselves and change this charter. And we can do that with an initiative.”

Under the new proposal, three new independently-elected positions will make up the city’s election commission. The city clerk, currently a voting member, will become an ex-officio member with no voting powers.

Barrow says the group is already expecting pushback from the city officials because this would strip some of their powers.

“We know it's a big deal,” he says. “But if we get the signatures we need, our lawyers are waiting in the wings. We're ready to do what we necessarily have to do.”

The group needs around 24,900 signatures to get their proposal on the ballot, according to Barrow. Since that’s a considerable undertaking, Citizens For Detroit’s Future will spend this election season gathering support. They’re hoping to get their measure on Detroit ballots before the next local elections.

They’ve scheduled an August 2nd meeting at the Historic King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit to officially unveil the proposal and ask Detroiters for their support.

Maya Goldman is a newsroom intern for Michigan Radio. She is currently a student at the University of Michigan, where she studies anthropology and writing. During the school year, Maya also works as a senior news editor and podcast producer for The Michigan Daily.
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