Consolidated election law passes first test
MAY 16, 2005
The votes are in and the winner is … Michigan's consolidated election law!
Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land today announced that nearly 277,000 more voters participated in the May 3 school elections than in last year's June elections - a 63 percent increase. The law limits elections to four set dates each year, which makes it easier for voters to participate and boosts turnout. It also streamlines the election process and gives school districts the option to reduce or eliminate election costs.
"Michigan is best served when voters make their voices heard," said Land, the state's chief election officer. "That's the premise of our consolidated election law. Based on the May 3 results, it looks as though the law is playing a key role in heightening voter awareness. Of course, turnout varies by district and is influenced by issues on the ballot. But, overall, the greater level of participation appears to validate the new law."
More than 717,000 voters cast ballots in this year's school elections. In 2004 that number stood at nearly 440,400. Turnout in many districts was two to three times higher than last year, though it was virtually the same or lower in other areas.
Feedback from local clerks also indicates a higher number of absent voter ballots being requested this year. One of the law's benefits is that it helps voters plan to participate, especially seasonal residents who are out of state during the election.
In addition, a much larger number of voters cast their ballots at the same polling places that they used in the November general election. A major advantage for most voters is that the separate polling places used in previous school elections are no longer being used. Consolidation has simplified Election Day for many voters.
The need for the law is clear. Fewer than 5 percent of eligible voters in nearly half of Michigan school districts participated in the 2000 school board elections, according to the state House Fiscal Agency. The turnout was 10 percent or less in three-quarters of the districts.
Voters in every county cast ballots on May 3 as 525 of Michigan's 552 local school districts conducted elections. Schools have the option of holding elections in November, which would reduce or eliminate their costs because they would be held in conjunction with local elections. Most schools, however, are using the May date.
Until this year, most school elections were conducted in June. Others were held on various dates throughout the year.
This was the first major school election handled by municipal clerks rather than school officials. The first election under the consolidated election law was Feb. 22 when voters in 28 counties cast ballots.
The law was signed in January 2004 and received broad, bipartisan support. Backers include Gov. Granholm, the Michigan Education Association, Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Municipal League, the League of Women Voters, Michigan Association of County Clerks and the Council of Election Officials.