Low Turnout Across Mid-Michigan Polls

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It wasn't the opposition that Scott Lonier says beat the bond proposal campaign he co-chaired in Grand Ledge.

Rather, he said, it was the people that were supposed to be on his team.

"What happened for us was the apathy for the yes voters," he said Wednesday, after the bond -- which would have spread nearly $60 million across Grand Ledge school safety, athletics and arts -- lost by 83 votes. "There was a lot of people that were in favor of it that just said 'you know I don't really know anyone that's opposed to it so I guess my vote really doesn't matter.'

"And it just goes to show every vote really does count," he said.

Instead, the proposal, which superintendent Brian Metcalf told News 10 last week he thought would pass, fell flat. And with no "Plan B," Lonier says there's not much hope.

"As adults we try to set examples for our kids and tell them that you're only one person, you're only one vote, but you have to show up," he said. "To be heard you have to show up."

The results -- heck, the election at all -- were news to some Grand Ledge residents, even as the clocked ticked on 24 hours past poll closing time.

"Didn't even know there was an election," said Todd Cooper.

Kristi Lee knew about the polls, but didn't vote because she says she didn't know the issues.

"I think a lot of people don't know what there is to vote on so they just don't bother going out," she said.

In Grand Ledge, turnout approached 25 percent -- which may even be considered strong for a non-primary, non-November election.

Consider Lansing, for example, where a mere 6.5 percent voted -- most of whom mailed their ballots in, said Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope.

"In terms of the cost per vote, yes this was an expensive election," Swope said. "But in terms of the revenue that the school district is gonna get to keep, it's a really small amount actually."

Lansing Schools won $18 million in revenue thanks to an operating millage that passed with a nearly 3,000-vote margin.

Swope said low turnout could be attributed to a non-controversial issue. Plus, Swope said, it's important to have a school election around the time when schools are crafting their budgets.

Even so, the cost is high. The Secretary of State estimates each election day costs each precinct $2,000. Swope estimates the Lansing school election cost $60,000-70,000 -- most of which will be reimbursed by the district.

That breaks down to roughly $10 per vote -- five times what it costs in a typical November election.

Perhaps it's not the most cost-effective model, but it is a necessary model, said Bill Ballenger, a political analyst at Inside Michigan Politics.

"If you're going to have democracy and you're going to have elections, they're going to cost money and people gotta get used to it," he said. "The turnout is always going to be low and the only thing that can be done to change that is if the state passes a law, which it could do, to make sure those elections are scheduled at some other date."

The Secretary of State consolidated school board elections in 2011 -- moving them to November -- to cut costs and increase turnout.

By law in Michigan, elections can only happen four times a year: February, May, August and November. Ballinger says he thinks that's about as bare-bones as the state can go.

"About the only thing left you could do is put as many elections on as many subjects on as many issues with as many candidates on one ballot at the same time," he said. "Maybe we're getting to the point where we're going to say 'only in August in the primary and only in November general election can you vote', but you oughta have some flexibility [for an emergency or special election]."

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