What happens if no candidates file for vacant police board seats?

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Detroit voters created the Board of Police Commissioners in the 1970s to provide oversight on city policing. (Screenshot from Detroit Board of Police Commissioners meeting)

The City of Detroit’s Clerk’s Office released the official list of certified candidates for the August primary election earlier this month. There are no August primaries for the Board of Police Commissioners because no district has more than two candidates on the ballot. The list from the Clerk’s Office also shows there are no certified candidates running in Districts 1 or 7. 

Related: Detroit police board to get major shakeup this fall

Candidates who filed petitions to be on the ballot in district races needed to collect 300 valid signatures by the April 20 deadline. Melissa King, deputy director of the Detroit Department of Elections, says many of the candidates who failed to qualify for the ballot had issues with the signatures they collected. 

“Those signatures could be from people who do not live in the city of Detroit or people registered in the incorrect district.  It could also be that the signatures don’t match the information on the petition,” King said. 

Lawrence Garcia, the city’s corporation counsel, says candidates for Districts 1 and 7 can declare to be write-in candidates for the November general election. 

“A declaration of intent must be filed with the city clerk by 4 p.m. on the second Friday preceding the election, which is Oct. 22, 2021.  A write-in vote cast for an individual who has not filed a declaration of intent does not count,” Garcia said. 

Garcia says, according to state election law, the write-in vote must also correspond with the specific office identified in the candidate’s declaration of intent. But what if no candidates file a declaration of intent by the deadline? 

Teresa Blossom, community relations coordinator for the Board of Police Commissioners, says if a vacancy occurs in an elective office of the board, the mayor will appoint a resident from that district, but his pick is  “subject to City Council approval.”

“If City Council does not disapprove the appointment within 30 days of the appointment, it will be deemed confirmed. The appointed person shall serve until an elected member takes office,” Blossom told BridgeDetroit in an email. “The election to fill the vacant position shall occur at the next general election, to be held no sooner than 180 days after occurrence of the vacancy.”

Commissioner Willie Burton, who represents District 5, is concerned that this could give the mayor too much power over the board. 

“The mayor already appoints four of the 11 board members, so if he were to appoint more folks, it could just be a bad look for voters who wouldn’t really get a say in who represents them,” Burton said. 

Burton is running unopposed for re-election. He acknowledged that the mayor wouldn’t have this authority under the current language of the proposed City Charter. But last week, a Wayne County Circuit Court judge ruled that the charter can’t be placed on the August ballot, largely because Gov. Gretchen Whitmer already rejected the revisions because of conflicts with state law. 

Burton, who believes Detroit voters should be allowed to vote on the revised charter, says the requirements for candidates to get on the ballot should have been changed due to difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think some folks may have had a hard time knocking on as many doors as they’d like or meeting with as many residents as possible because they were following the state guidelines for social distancing. That might have cost some people a spot on the ballot this term,” he said. 

Deputy Director King said no changes were made to the requirements despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

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