Why elected officials should not comment on blogs

Should elected officials comment on blogs or underneath news articles?  Do they give up their right to speak once they are elected to office?  Normally, they do not, but sometimes their comments can create a perception that is unintentional…or is it?

cfBackground

The entire Dascola saga is a complete clusterf**k!!!!!

In previous posts here and here, I wrote about why I was upset that Bob Dascola was suing the City of Ann Arbor in order to run for city council even though he did not meet the residency eligibility requirements in our city charter.  Now thanks to our County Clerk’s office we have an election nightmare that no one could have imagined.

After all the court filings and judge decisions that allowed Dascola to run for city council, the county clerk’s office screws up and omits Dascola’s name from the absentee ballots that were sent out.  Notice that I said WERE SENT OUT.

The Civic News ticker on the Ann Arbor Chronicle reported this:

Dascola’s name was initially not included in the information provided to the county’s third-party ballot programmer – Government Business Systems (GBS). But when a federal court ruling was made last month on May 20, 2014, that the city charter’s eligibility requirements were not enforceable, the new Ward 3 candidate slate – including Dascola – was provided to GBS. Proofs of the ballots were then sent to the county clerk and the city clerk as well as to the candidates. Those proofs included Dascola’s name – so the ballots survived those checks.
Then, a change to the ballots was requested by the city of Ypsilanti – to remove city council races from Ypsilanti ballots where there was not a contested race. This is a city charter provision – that when there’s not more than one candidate for a primary race, it’s not included on the ballot. But instead of removing the Ypsilanti council races, GBS removed the city of Ann Arbor council races. The proofing process identified that error. But in restoring the Ann Arbor city council races to the ballot, GBS reverted to the initial slate – which did not include Dascola’s name.
At that point, Golembiewski said, the mistake was missed – by him and by the county election commission, which consists of the county clerk (Larry Kestenbaum), county treasurer (Catherine McClary) and the chief probate judge (Darlene O’Brien). A resident who received the incorrect ballot identified the error.

Un-frickin-believable!!

ballotThere were 400 incorrect absentee (AV) ballots mailed out to voters.  A correct ballot was mailed to each of these voters along with instructions to use this replacement ballot to vote or to send in this ballot as a replacement in case the incorrect ballot was already cast.

So what happens now if a voter files an incorrect ballot but never sends in the correct ballot?  The Michigan Bureau of Election says that the votes on the incorrect ballot will be counted.  As reported by Ryan Stanton on mlive.com¹:

“The Bureau of Elections reviewed the matter further and determined that a vote cast for a Ward 3 City Council candidate via an incorrect ballot will be counted if a voter does not send in a corrected ballot,” said Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of State.
“Voters who cast votes in Ward 3 and only return the original ballot cannot have their votes voided due to the ballot printing error,” reads the official letter from Christopher Thomas, the state’s director of elections, to the city clerk on Monday.
“Each of the voters is being given an opportunity to cast a replacement ballot and every attempt should be made to encourage these voters to return the replacement ballot,” he added. “However, there may be voters who would not change their vote in Ward 3 or will be out of town and unable to return the replacement ballot by Election Day. Neither situation can result in the disenfranchisement of these voters.”

So now once again Dascola and his lawyer Tom Wieder are suing the city in federal court to insist that all incorrectly printed ballots not be counted. Yes, they are suing the city, not the county, but the city.  It appears now that the city wants the court to decide how the ballots will be counted, but we shall see what actually happens in the next couple of weeks as the case proceeds through the court.

Election Commission responsibilities

According to the ELECTION OFFICIALS’ MANUAL, Michigan Bureau of Elections, Chapter 9, Updated January 2014 (excerpts)

Election ballots must always be carefully proofed to ensure that 1) they conform to all required legal and technical standards and 2) they are free of errors and omissions. The importance of the ballot proofing cannot be over emphasized!
County Election Commission’s Responsibilities: Ballots prepared for use at federal, state and countywide elections and certain school district elections are printed by the authority of the County Election Commission.
Local Election Commission’s Responsibilities: Ballots prepared for use at city, township, village and certain school district elections are printed by the authority of the City, Township or County Election Commission.
Before the ballots are printed, the printer returns copies of the ballots to the appropriate Election Commission. The Commission is responsible for checking the various proof ballots to make sure that they are free of errors and omissions.
Proofing ballots is a tedious and time-consuming task – but the problems and embarrassment a complete proofing job can save on Election Day makes the task well worth the effort. If the Commission delegates ballot proofing to members of the clerk’s staff, the task should be assigned to those in the office with the best eye for detail.
Responsibilities of Candidates and Department of State: Immediately after the proof ballots are delivered to the Election Commission, they forward the proofs to the Department of State’s Bureau of Elections in Lansing for approval. The Commission also sends each candidate a proof ballot which lists the candidate’s name.
The Department of State’s Bureau of Elections inspects the form of the proof ballots received from each Election Commission. (The Bureau of Elections does not check candidate name spellings or that all required offices are on the ballot.) If the ballots are in the proper form, the Bureau of Elections grants its approval of the ballots; if the ballots are not in the proper form, the Bureau of Elections forwards the necessary corrections to the Commission
Final Inspection by the County Election Commission: After the ballots are printed, they are given a final inspection by the County Election Commission. If the ballots pass the final inspection, they are wrapped and delivered to the county clerk. The county clerk is then responsible for the delivery of the ballots to the local jurisdictions in the county. If convenient, the county clerk can arrange for the printer to send the ballots to the local jurisdictions. The printer must not ship ballots to local jurisdictions before the County Election Commission has inspected the ballots a final time. It is strongly recommended that the city or township clerk carefully inspect the ballots again after the ballots are received on the local level to make sure that the County Election Commission has not overlooked an error or omission on the ballot.
Correction of Ballot Errors and Omissions After Ballots are Printed: The objective of the ballot proofing procedures is, of course, to spot and correct all ballot errors and omissions before the ballots are printed. If a ballot error or omission is found after the ballots have been printed, the County Election Commission must reprint the ballots before the election if feasible. If it is determined that the reprinting of ballots is not feasible, the Michigan Department of State’s Bureau of Elections should be contacted immediately for further instruction. It should be noted that a candidate can, under certain circumstances, petition for an election to be held again by mail if a ballot defect is found after the polls open on Election Day. (MCL 168.831-839)

This is not just a city election where our city clerk is in charge of the ballots..  The county clerk/county election commission is the one responsible for the final ballot proofing and for the printing of the ballots for this election.  So why is the city getting sued instead of the county?  I think it is because the city runs the elections and counts the ballots, but the county clerk’s office prints the ballots.  Despite the fact that the county clerk’s office is the party that screwed up, the city has to handle the fallout.

gavel2On July 9, 2014 the City of Ann Arbor  responded to the lawsuit by filing this brief with the court.  (as posted on the Ann Arbor Chronicle).  What is interesting in it is that the city was never given a proof of the ballot after the initial mistake.  It was all handled behind the scenes.  Yet Dascola and his lawyer keep insinuating that this was the city’s fault.

My issue

My first problem with this is that the Larry Kestenbaum, our County Clerk, has been silent about this whole situation.  At least I have not seen or read any public statement from him.  The buck should stop with him.  He needs to explain how this could happen.

Considering everything the city went through with the court hearing about the eligibility requirements, you would think that he would step up and explain that the mistake happened on his watch and had nothing to do with the city or the previous court case and decision.  But we hear silence.  He is throwing the city clerk under the bus in order to save his hide.

When the ballot was corrected due to the Ann Arbor/Ypsi races being edited incorrectly  the city clerk was never presented with a second ballot to proof.  Why not?  Should she have to always second guess the competence of the county clerk’s office and check and re-check all their work instead of trusting that her counterparts are doing their jobs after she already proofed the city ballot?  No, she shouldn’t have to, but I bet she will do that now and forevermore.

Was the rest of the county election commission told of the omission and the correction related to the City of Ypsilanti? It appears that they just blindly assumed everything was normal.  Why didn’t Larry Kestenbaum who is part of the county election commission explain what happened? And if he did explain, then why didn’t the election commission notice the mistake?  We deserve some public answers.

Was this simply a mistake?  Was this incompetence?  Was this intentional?  I hope not.

You can’t make this stuff up or can you?

Normally, I would just chuck this up to “you can’t make this stuff up” sort of weird circumstance, but I gotta tell you….. Larry Kestenbaum likes to comment on blogs/websites.  He does it often and even gives quotes about his opinion on elections to local media.  Plus, he likes to support  specific candidates openly in elections that occur under his watch.  He likes to support candidates who are listed in races on ballots that he and his office are responsible for printing.

That is all well and good until…..the county clerk’s office screws up and you now look biased or worse.

Larry Kestenbaum wrote this under an Ann Arbor Chronicle article regarding the Dascola win in court:

By Larry Kestenbaum
May 20, 2014 at 5:35 pm | permalink
I am very pleased to see this result, and I am just baffled as to why the city government sought to enforce this void requirement.
In 1999, I was able to run for city council from the 4th ward, even though I had not been a registered voter in that ward for the supposedly required one year. In other words, the city used the rule against Bob Dascola, but not against me!
Kudos to Tom Wieder for his handling of this case.
Thanks also to the judge for a timely ruling. We will soon be printing ballots for the August 5th primary.

(There were 2 residency requirements in the charter.  One was residency in the ward, the other was registered voter in the city.  I don’t know the details of Kestenbaum assertion, but obviously he met one of the requirements.  Is he asserting he was given a known “pass” or was it just unknown by the city clerk 15 years ago.)
Perception: Old lady or young lady

Perception: Old lady or young lady

So it appears that Kestenbaum is a Dascola supporter.  Would 400 disqualified AV ballots help his preferred candidate?  Considering he is the underdog in this race  I think so. You decide.  It sure has the look of impropriety to me even if there is none there.  Does perception influence reality?  Does perception determine reality?

Kestenbaum’s comments about Dascola are now read in a different light now that his office may have given Dascola up to 400 votes if the court rules that no incorrectly printed ballots can be counted.

ann_arbor_observer_coverKestenbaum is also featured in a Ann Arbor Observer July 2014 article speaking about the judge races for the August 14 election.  He gives his opinion on who has the better chance at prevailing in the election and who he endorses.  Really?  Is this appropriate?  Should the person in charge of printing the local  election ballots be giving his opinion on who is his preferred candidate or on who might win the race?

Some would argue that the county clerk is still a voter and should be allowed his opinion no matter what, but don’t you think that the county clerk’s office above any other political office locally should stay neutral in the races that the clerk’s office is responsible for listing on the ballots?  Especially after this situation. What happens if another ‘mistake’ happens in a race that he has publicly made comments on?

Those of us who work in the private sector would never be allowed to comment publicly about our work in such a fashion.  Should teachers be able to publicly comment about how well certain students  perform on tests in their classrooms…before they even take the test?  Would an employee at company A be able to post all over the internet how company B has better products  and yet still be able to keep their job at Company A?  I think not.

I am not actually saying that Kestenbaum did this on purpose, intentionally, with any ill will in mind, but the pro-Dascola commenting along with his comments in news articles sure makes you ponder the question.  It sure makes him look biased.  Too biased in my opinion for him to be in charge of elections that require neutrality and fairness.  Too biased for him and his office to make such an egregious mistake with the ballot printing.

Yes, I know that this is a partisan office, but maybe it shouldn’t be? Of all elected officials, the one who runs the elections and prints the ballots should be neutral in the race, don’t ya think? Judges, who are elected on the non-partisan ballot, must stay neutral in elections why not have the county clerk’s office be non-political as well

The Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct says judges and judicial candidates should refrain from political activity that is “inappropriate to judicial office.” It also says they shouldn’t make speeches on behalf of a political party or nonjudicial candidate or publicly endorse a candidate for nonjudicial office.  (but they can endorse for judicial races)

Notice I said non-political NOT non-partisan necessarily.  Or maybe we can still elect them on a partisan ballot, but include an ethics or integrity clause in their job description that says they have limited public political behavior just like the judges have.  Why not?

I wish Kestenbaum and the county clerk’s office would be more vocal and public about how this happened.  I wish they would take real responsibility instead of indirectly insinuating that the city clerk  was at fault.  Dascola and his lawyer have now responded to the City’s response brief regarding the new lawsuit and are trying to pin the blame directly on the city.  The county clerk’s office could and should set the record straight.

I don’t like it when any elected official comments on articles and blogs especially on controversial topics.  Yes, they can add information to the conversation or correct errors that others may be propagating, but they should not be strident in their activism.  They should not argue or debate the public in a forum setting.  They should not show that their mind is made up before all the facts about an issue are brought forward. They are supposed to listen to the public and take all opinions in to consideration.   How can they actually listen if their strident opinions are being forced on to the public in a comment under an article or a blog?  Some of our current elected officials can’t seem to figure out the difference between adding facts and information and being strident and accusatory.  I tend to really dislike it.

Elected officials should not comment on blogs or news articles IMO.  As I said before, giving facts and information is good, debating the public not so good, showing bias not so good. It hurts the integrity of the office they hold and can set them up for a public relations disaster such as we now have with the Dascola ballot fiasco.  You may think you have the right to speak your mind, but when your actions call the integrity of your office in to question, whether  it is only perception versus reality, then maybe…just maybe…you should stop.

obliti privatorum, publica curate 

-MOTL

*****************************************************************

¹Ryan Stanton, “State election bureau: Votes on incorrect 3rd Ward ballots in Ann Arbor will be counted”.  Ann Arbor News, July 1, 2014.

 

This entry was posted in Elections, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.