No competition means not many voters in this year’s civic election

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A "Vote Here" stand outside of the precinct hall. Photo by Peter Nuttall

A “Vote Here” stands outside of a precinct location. Photo by Peter Nuttall

By Peter Nuttall
Living In The Ledge Staff Reporter

This past Election Day in Grand Ledge resulted in a poor turnout of voters. According to Grand Ledge City Clerk Gregory Newman, only 10 percent of the registered voters in the city of Grand Ledge came out to the polls to vote on Nov. 3.

“Ten percent is a very disappointing number,” Grand Ledge Mayor Kalmin Smith said.

This year was a non-presidential election year where only city council spots were up for election. Newman said that in the past, whenever the city council is the only one on the ballot, it’s usually a low turnout.

Also, according to Smith all four candidates on the local ballot were running unopposed, something that he believes may have aided in the low voter turnout this year.

“When none of the candidates have any competition, there’s no incentive for citizens to come out and vote,” Smith said.

Grand Ledge’s ballot included the position of mayor and also three Grand Ledge City Council representatives, which each individually represents one of Grand Ledge’s three wards.

According to, 5,874 people are registered to vote in the city of Grand Ledge. On Election Day, 411 people voted for Smith. 121 people from Ward 1 voted for Keith Mulder to represent them on the city council. 97 people from Ward 2 voted for  Catherine Bartholomew, and only 14 people from Ward 3 voted for Tom Sowle.

Graph comparing the number of registered voters of each ward to the number of people who voted for Mayor Kalmin Smith this past election day. Graph by Peter Nuttall using numbers

Graph comparing the number of registered voters of each ward to the number of people in each ward who voted for Mayor Kalmin Smith this past Election Day. Data gathered from Graph made by Peter Nuttall

Smith will be mayor of Grand Ledge for another two years, while Mulder, Bartholomew, and Sowle, will each represent their own individual wards.

According to Michigan State political science professor Eric Juenke, one reason many elections in smaller communities feature candidates that run unopposed is because it’s almost like a chore to find people willing to step in to take one for the team.

“It’s a question of how much love the local community have in terms of the daily lives of the people,” Central Michigan political science professor James Hill said. “If you feel that some people are willing to step forward, many people aren’t unless there’s a pressing issue that brings people to the polls, people are more than less inclined to have that mentality of, ‘if you’re willing to take it on, then more power to you.'”

Hill described elections as a voter’s paradox. He said most voters recognize that their one vote really doesn’t mean that much in terms of the amount of effort it takes to vote.

“Voters have to have an incentive to vote by some issue or some important aspect of the election that affects them, that brings them to the polls,” Hill said. “Other than that it’s a very rational thing for people not to vote without some kind of overpowering incentive.”

However one issue that Smith believes will alter the Grand Ledge community was on the ballot this year. A proposal to amend the City Charter was on the ballot. It could mean the end to unopposed elections in Grand Ledge.

In the past, according to Newman, if citizens wanted to be on the ballot for city council, they had to go out and collect a number of signatures from people in the community. If they wanted to run for mayor they had to get 200 signatures. If they wanted to represent a ward on city council they had to have 80 signatures.

“They have to be legitimate signatures too because the city clerk checks them all,” Smith said. “If they’re not registered or don’t live in Grand Ledge, they don’t count.”

The amendment to the City Charter would now make it so anyone who wants to run for a position in city government has to have a petition with just 25 signatures from people who are registered to vote in Grand Ledge. If they don’t want to get the signatures for the petition, they can pay a $100 filing fee and be put on the ballot.

According to Smith, the amendment proposal was approved. However he was frustrated that not many citizens came out to vote on it.

“The news of the amendment proposal was just only put out in the newspaper this past week,” he said. “Not everyone gets a newspaper anymore, so I don’t believe a lot of people knew about the amendment proposal.”

Newman is hoping that the new amendment to the City Charter will lead to some competition in next year’s city council election, which would hopefully mean an increased turnout in voters next year.

“What really has to happen is people have to develop a civil engagement perspective, and recognize the value of voting and the importance of that,” Hill said.

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