The High Price for Low Voter Turnout

By: Josh Sidorowicz Email
By: Josh Sidorowicz Email

"Democracy isn't cheap but it's an investment worth having."

You could've driven a tank through some polling locations Tuesday without hitting a single person.

Turnout was low, even for a primary. Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope said they expected and got fairly dismal numbers.

"We call all of our precincts and yesterday I called to find out 'okay, how many voters have you had so far?' ... and when they sent me the list I just kind of groaned a little," Swope said.

The groan perhaps warranted with just about 8 percent voting in Lansing, which is roughly 7,000 people of the city's more than 83,000 registered voters.

Jackson didn't fare much better with just 6 percent of the city's registered voters casting a ballot.

Mark Grebner, a political consultant based out of East Lansing said voters just don't feel there's much at stake in a primary election.

"Primaries are good for shaping clearer choices but when you don't a have a choice that has to be shaped then going through the primary process is sort of a waste of everyone's time," Grebner said.

And perhaps a waste of money too.

According to Swope, Lansing's primary cost the city about $35,000 with the largest chunk going toward paying workers at the polls.

Of the roughly 7,000 who voted just about 3,200 voted at the polls with the rest voting absentee which means each in-person vote cost the city about $10.

But Swope said there have been efforts to reduce costs in recent elections.

"We were able to save a significant amount of money this year by combining precincts where we have co-located precincts," he said. "We just ran them as single precincts and we were able to save several thousand dollars that way."

Swope contends though it's money well spent.

"We need elected officials, we need people to lead and we have to give the voters a choice," he said.

Fred Woodhams, a spokesperson with the Michigan Secretary of State echoed that sentiment and added the state has made a push recently to consolidate certain elections like school board elections to keep costs down.

"Democracy isn't cheap but it's an investment worth having," he said.

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