By Derek Melot/Bridge Magazine
Michigan’s primary election did not pass without a couple of bumps — one for poll workers navigating Michigan election law, another for advocates of a plan to actually dissolve one of Michigan’s 1,000-plus local governments.
In Onekama, southwest of Traverse City, a proposal to abolish the government of the village of Onekama — and thereby leading to a merger with the neighboring Onekama Township — received a majority of the votes cast in the two entities, 340-305 in unofficial results.
But the measure failed because, under state law, it needed a 2/3 supermajority.
Eric Lupher, a local government expert who worked with the communities on the merger plan, said, “Everything got so lost in politics; they kind of lost sight of what the vote was about.”
“I wasn’t there … but from what I understand, there was a lot of campaigning on the idea that the village has assets and by giving them to township, you are just giving away village money; there was no compensation for this ‘loss,’” added Lupher, who works for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan.
Onekama is back to square one, but Lupher doesn’t see the consolidation question going away for many of Michigan’s smaller communities.
“The reality of municipal finance right now is that many other villages will have to look at this, whether they are scared off (by the Onekama results) or not,” he explained. “The financial situation just isn’t good for small governments the size of Onekama. They’ll face questions of, “How high should we raise taxes or should we think about whether we should we be here at all?”
Citizenship question confuses
Meanwhile in communities stretching from Oakland County to the state capital, a scattering of voters encountered confusion over a question on the application for a ballot:
Are you a citizen of the United States?
State Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga and a member of the House Redistricting and Elections Committee, took to Facebook on primary day to identify problem spots and advise voters on how to proceed. Byrum said she and her father encountered the confusion from poll workers when they tried to vote, as did two staffers for Bridge, both voting in the Lansing area.
The Secretary of State’s office also released instructions on how state law allowed people to not answer the question but still cast a ballot.
Via email, Fred Woodhams of the Department of State told Bridge Tuesday afternoon, “There have been a handful of jurisdictions in which people were refusing to mark an answer and the communities have been contacted specifically by Elections to clarify. We’ve also provided clarification of these rules to the clerks today.”
Woodhams also told the Capitol news service MIRS that “I don’t see how also asking someone to verify that they’re a citizen is a problem. It’s a basic yes or no question.”
Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said via email Wednesday that the governor is “committed to working with the Secretary of State’s Office and the Legislature to improve this process and legislation, and help ensure clarity and certainty.”
Senior Editor Derek Melot joined Bridge Magazine in 2011 after serving as an assistant editorial page editor, columnist and reporter at the Lansing State Journal, where he covered state and local issues extensively, earning awards from the Associated Press and Michigan Press Association. The Oklahoma native moved to Michigan in 1999.