Iosco County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert Huebel discusses possible legal implications of allowing the township consolidation vote on the March primary ballot.

TAWAS CITY — Voters in AuSable and Oscoda townships may see presidential candidates on the March primary ballot, but they will not see a township consolidation question after the Iosco County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution denying approval of the ballot question.

During its Jan. 2 organizational meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to “deny the request to specify a date for said election” after discussions with county Attorney Thomas Huck on the petitions. This was after Huck’s interpretation of the Michigan Election Law of 1954 and the Michigan Consolidation Act.

Late last year the Oscoda/AuSable Citizens’ Committee was formed by Oscoda and AuSable townships residents seeking to have the townships combined. Some of the benefits, according to the group, was to lower costs of facilities and staff in the townships. The petitions, totaling 15 percent of the registered, were submitted to the county late last year for approval by the clerk, which would then be sent on to commissioners for approval and inclusion on a ballot for a public vote, as outlined in a formal Michigan Consolidation Act process.

But although the petitions checked out and were proper under the act, Iosco County Clerk Nancy Huebel told commissioners there was an issue. Huebel gave a time line of the petition process and the work through her office. She said on Dec. 18 the clerk’s office received the petitions and by Dec. 21 the petitions were reviewed to assure that all who had signed were registered voters in the county and townships. 

Huebel said AuSable Township had 119 signatures, with 103 needed, and that Oscoda Township had 411 signatures, with 350 needed.

“I did notify all the parties involved that they had enough to bring it to the Iosco County Board of Commissioners to have them review,” she said.

Huebel said she then had a meeting with herself, Vice Chairman Jay O’Farrell and Huck, with the Michigan Board of Elections on the issue to see what the next step for the county would be.

According to Huebel, although the signatures were validated, an election official with the Michigan Board of Elections said there would be an issue with the petition because the law used to gather the petitions and submit them to county government was under an old law. Huebel told commissioners that in 2015 a law was enacted that set the dates that any election could be conducted in Michigan, four times a year.

“It used to be there were five election days in the year, but the legislation got rid of the February election dates,” Huebel said. “What the bureau indicated is that basically the petitions should have been submitted prior to the Dec. 3 deadline in order for that to go onto the presidential primary ballot, (which is March 10) and basically they submitted the petitions too late.”

Huebel said, as what was explained to her on the conference call was that when the legislators revised the election date laws, they never looked at the election law regarding township consolidation elections. She was further informed, along with Huck, that the petition group — working under the consolidation act language and steps — would have to resubmit the petitions but also have to wait for the 2024 election year to do so, as that was a primary election year.

Huebel told commissioners that she just received the written opinion from Huck that morning and the petition committee had yet to be informed, but would be.

As per the written opinion, Huck said the problem arose with timing 

“Section 641 of the (Michigan Election Law of 1954) is specific as to when the election can be held. Unfortunately the consolidation petition was filed too late to be placed on the ballot for the presidential primary election of March 10,” stated Huck in his opinion. “Because of the above problem, the State of Michigan Board of Elections was consulted for their input. They agreed that Section 641 dates are specific and no other special election can be held without it being called by the Governor of the State of Michigan.”

Huck went on to state that although the petitions were proper, it was not possible, in his opinion, for commissioners to set the matter for election within the 2020 calendar year.

Chairman Robert Huebel said that if the county moved forward with including it on a ballot, it would eventually get thrown out in court if approved.

“There are going to be two sides of this argument,” he said. “If we moved forward and said lets allow this election, somebody could get a lawyer and have it all thrown out.  I guess at this point our hands are tied.”

Commissioner Terry Dutcher cast a motion to deny the election date for the consolidation question. He was seconded by O’Farrell. The vote was unanimous.

Huebel said he understood there were individuals with vested interests on both sides of the issue, but that he could not in good conscience go through with an election and just have it thrown out.

O’Farrell said that everyone has the right to be governed the way they want to be governed, but there was the law to consider.

“This has been explained to us by the State of Michigan and confirmed by the county attorney,” he said. “Someone could contest this that we knew it wasn’t legal. We have to watch out for every penny of taxpayer dollars.”