Democrats dominate Ingham County Board of Commissioners. Why?

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By Griffin Wasik
Ingham County Chronicle Staff Reporter

Eleven out of 14 members on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners belong to the Democratic Party.

Who represents each district and how many people they represent. Photo from Ingham.org. Republican and Democratic colors by Griffin Wasik

Who represents each district and how many people they represent. Photo from Ingham.org. Republican and Democratic colors by Griffin Wasik

And Democrats control all countywide elected offices as well, Democrat Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum of Onondaga said. “There are six countywide elected officials for Ingham County and they are all Democrats. Then there are the 14 commissioners that represent portions of the county,” only three of which are Republicans.

That’s no surprise, given the county’s demographics. Lansing, East Lansing and Meridian Township all tend to consist of Democrats, Democrat Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing of East Lansing said.

“Generally speaking, university towns and the area around them consist of more Democrats all across the country,” Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University Sarah Reckhow said.

“Party identification is related to race and income,” Reckhow said. “For instance, non-white voters are more likely to support Democrats and income is also related to what party people support. So the poorer you are, the more likely you are to vote Democratic.”

According to the 2014 U.S. Census Bureau, Ingham County has a lower percentage of Caucasians and averages roughly $4,000 less median household income than the Michigan state average.

“Given that assumption of voters in the county, I would say that not only would it be very difficult for Republicans to have a majority on the board, but it in fact should not be expected,” Democrat Commissioner for District 10 Brian McGrain of Lansing said. “With a populace that leans left, one should expect a governing body to lean left too.”

But some believe map-making has something to do with it as well. It’s very difficult for Republicans to have a majority on the Board of Commissioners because of the way the districts are drawn, Republican Commissioner for District 6 Randy Maiville of Onondaga said.

“Every 10 years, the census is taken,” Maiville said. “Then the districts are redrawn. The people who draw those boundaries are the clerk, the prosecutor, the chair of the Democratic Party and the chair of the Republican Party.

“Well, the Democrats control, so they draw boundaries in their best interest. About 66 percent of the people in Ingham County are Democrats. But in reality, there should be about five or six Republicans on the board if you drew true, nice, enclosed areas.”

Said McGrain: “Saying that 66 percent of the county votes Democratic could be approximately true. I would have guess it may be slightly higher.”

Maiville also claims rural areas are under-represented.

“The Supreme Court ruled that one person gets one vote in 1969,” Maiville said. “So, that shifted all the power to the urban area, primarily in Lansing. So, Lansing will have anywhere from five to six commissioners, Meridian Township will have two, East Lansing has two and the rest of Ingham County has the rest.”

McGrain disagrees. “In regard to, ‘one person, one vote,’ I think the Supreme Court acted properly,” he said. “In Ingham County, most of our populace lives north of I-96, a far more urban area of the county. So, I think it’s only fair that most of our elected representation comes from that portion of the county.”

Ingham County is divided into 14 districts. This is a view of them up-close. Photo from Ingham.org. Numbers by Griffin Wasik

Ingham County is divided into 14 districts. This is a view of them up-close. Photo from Ingham.org. Numbers by Griffin Wasik

Maiville also says rules favor Democrats. In 1998, the Democrats formed a binding caucus, which took power away from the Republican Party, Maiville said.

“A binding caucus is if a simple majority of them (Democrats) want an appointment or a leadership role, the others are required to go along because it’s binding,” Maiville said. “This year, Kara Hope was able to pick up six votes out of the 11 Democrats, so she became the board chair. The Republicans don’t have any say in that.”

News of the Democratic control was a surprise to some.

“I did not realize there was such a gap between Democrats and Republicans in Ingham County,” Timothy Blake, a Lansing resident, said.

Ingham County is divided into 14 districts. This is a view of them zoomed out. Photo from Ingham.org. Numbers by Griffin Wasik

Ingham County is divided into 14 districts. This is a view of them zoomed out. Photo from Ingham.org. Numbers by Griffin Wasik

Citizens elect Ingham County commissioners in office, McGrain said.

“We do anything ranging from the courts to the sheriff’s office,” McGrain said. “We deal with parks, animal control, veterans issues, health care, we have our hands in a lot of different things. My district is mostly the eastern side of Lansing and a small portion of East Lansing. I represent about 20,000 people in my district.”

Democrats haven’t always dominated Ingham County.

“If you went back a little more than 40 or 50 years, it would have probably been flipped, 11 Republicans and three Democrats,” Schertzing said.

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