Voters in GR could change how city commissioners get elected

A look at GR's Prop 1 and Prop 2 on the ballot this November
Posted at 10:43 PM, Oct 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-11 22:43:28-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A question on the ballot for Grand Rapids voters this year could change how and when city commissioners are elected.

If passed, city Proposal 1 would require all city elections to take place in even-numbered years.

It’s something a local group called Empower The Citizens has wanted for a couple years now, but there has been some pushback.

“About two years ago, we started to go to the city commission meetings and present this idea of switching our city officials elections to the even year,” Bonnie Burke said. "The reason being that all over the country, there is a national trend that people are not voting in the off-year."

Burke is pushing for people to vote “Yes” on local Proposal 1, helping mail thousands of flyers that say “Off-year city elections stink.”

Burke says a Yes vote would save taxpayers the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year that it costs to run elections and it would increase voter participation fivefold.

“You're looking at saving possibly $500,000 to the taxpayers, because they already pay for even-year elections. That's built into the tax base in Kent County,” Burke said.

“Only about 10 percent of the city votes in those off-year elections, so we're electing our leaders with about 10 percent of the citizens voting,” Burke added.

However, there is a contingency of people who think otherwise.

A flyer sent by a group known as Keep GR Local says “Don’t let GR become DC."

The group argues even-year-only elections would increase partisanship and inject outside influence on local races.

“I think we're all very aware of the hyper-partisan atmosphere that we're in right now,” former GR City Commissioner Ruth Kelly said. "The thing that concerns me is that these elections would change, and the issues and ballot measures would now be on the ballot in hyper-partisan years."

Kelly says it would also likely drive up the cost for local candidate campaigns and, in turn, increase the presence of special interests.

“I think in a partisan election it’s going to be very tempting for candidates, or those who are focused on an issue to reach out to the two political parties, and or special interests to get that money, because it's hard enough in a local election to pay for all of the messaging that you have to do and knock on all the doors,” Kelly added.

Burke and Empower The Citizens are also pushing for Proposal 2 to get passed, which would eliminate the ability for city commission candidates to get elected by winning a certain percentage of votes in the August primaries.