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September 23, 2009

COA Opinion: Entire township not required to vote on annexation of township parcel

On September 22, 2009, the Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Charter Township of Meridian v. Ingham County Clerk, No. 279459 affirming summary disposition in favor of East Lansing's annexation of a portion of Meridian Township. The Township challenged the annexation referendum (which passed in the November 2006 election) on the grounds that it only allowed those qualified electors from the small portion of the Township to be annexed to vote, as opposed to the entire Township. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals rejected this challenge, finding no violation of voting rights or equal protection guarantees.

Specifically, the Township argued that provisions of the Charter Township Act, which only allowed votes from those living in portion of the township to be annexed, violates their residents' constitutional right to vote. The Township argued that residents, other than those living in the potentially annexed portion, may be effected, and thus have a right to vote. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that municipal boundaries are a well-established function of the Legislature, and because the Legislature is free to alter them at-will, without election, the Legislature is similarly permitted to allow for a referendum where only qualified electors living in the to-be annexed portion of the township may vote.

The Court of Appeals also rejected the Township's argument that the voting limitation violated equal protection. The Court of Appeals agreed with an earlier decision that held that this restriction was rationally related to furthering a legitimate government interest of preventing a township veto of an annexation, even where a majorities of the annexing city and the portion of the township to be annexed are in favor of the annexation.

The Township also challenged the referendum on procedural grounds, regarding the certification of the ballot and the identification of the property to be annexed. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court that property description and certification procedures were sufficient under the applicable statutes.

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