Local clerks favor consolidating school elections

Published 7:11 am Thursday, June 12, 2003

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Consolidating school and local elections will increase awareness of elections, improve voter turnout and save taxpayer dollars, state leaders said Wednesday in unveiling legislation to modernize the process.
Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, state Rep. Christopher Ward, R-Brighton, and state Sen. Beverly Hammerstrom, R-Temperance, said the current practice of having individual school elections in addition to regularly-scheduled school elections dilutes voters' interest and discourages turnout.
It drains critical dollars from cash-strapped school districts as well.
Ward proposes legislation that consolidates all elections to four annually in February, May, August and November. It also transfers responsibility for school elections to counties and municipal election officials.
Ward, chairman of the Local Government and Urban Policy Committee, said support for the legislation is broad and bipartisan.
Statewide turnout in Monday's annual June school election averaged 5 percent, said Kelly Chesney, Land's spokesperson.
Turnout would increase because "it will be on the ballot with other important issues." Community college districts would be required to hold elections at the same time as local municipalities.
The nine-bill package, introduced this week, is supported by organizations such as the League of Women Voters, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Townships Association, the Michigan Municipal League, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Great Lakes Education Project.
Hammerstrom, a longtime champion of election consolidation, emphasized that the new process will assist schools in focusing on their core mission.
The legislation's timing is appropriate due to ongoing reform efforts at the national and state levels, according to Land.
Michigan stands to receive $45 million in federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grants this year.
HAVA is designed to help states improve polling access, replace outdated equipment with a uniform system and better accommodate the needs of voters who are disabled or serving overseas.
A state task force Land appointed began gathering public input in March on how to spend the HAVA funds.
The controversial 2000 presidential election in Florida heightened awareness for accurate elections, Chesney said.
"We don't want a repeat of what happened."