By Rachel Beard
Lansing Township News Staff Reporter
The March 8, 2016 presidential primary resulted in a record-breaking voter turnout in Michigan, and, while perhaps not record-breaking, Lansing Township also experienced a higher turnout than usual.
“Well, [voter turnout] was double what it was four years ago,” Lansing Township Clerk Susan Aten said. “It was higher than it normally is, for that particular election.”
The average turnout here was 35 percent. “Our precincts ranged from 25 to 43 percent,” Lansing Township Supervisor Diontrae Hayes said. “Information comes from the clerk’s office and [is] also posted on Ingham County’s website.”
Christopher Larimer, Professor of American Politics at the University of Northern Iowa, attributes this increase in turnout to the large number of Republican candidates running for office.
“[Turnout is] bigger on the Republican side right now, and I think a lot of that has to do with the field of candidates,” Larimer said. “We had, what, seventeen candidates to start. There’s a lot of emotional intensity this time around on the Republican side. I think that’s why you’re seeing such a big increase for Republicans this time around.”
Aten anticipated a higher number of voters coming out to vote, but she wasn’t sure how many there would be.
“We knew it was going to be high based on the absentee ballots that were being requested,” Aten said. “We knew it was going to be higher than four years ago. We just didn’t know – it was kind of an unknown throughout the state. We knew it was going to be higher, but we just didn’t know where it was going to go.”
Hayes also expected the high turnout.
“Voter turnout in Ingham County mirrors trends that we see around the country,” Hayes said. “Lansing Township’s numbers are on par with other neighboring municipalities.”
Although turnout in the township was higher than average, less than half of the township’s registered voters voted in the primaries.
Despite an average of turnout of 35 percent, Hayes is optimistic that more voters will show up to vote in November.
“Primary election participants are often lower than those who vote in general elections,” Hayes said.
Voter turnout during a primary election is heavily affected by the voter’s interest in behavior in previous elections.
“Past turnout is important,” Larimer said. “Obviously with primaries, voter registration is going to be important, and just sort of a general attention to politics. People who pay attention to politics, who voted in the past, who are registered for the party, are more likely to vote, particularly in a primary.”
But there’s very little the township can do to increase voter turnout outside of keeping township residents informed.
“We make sure everything is publicized, and our precincts are handicap accessible,” Aten said. “You can’t force people to come out [and vote].”
Hayes shares Aten’s concerns about keeping voters informed.
“The township provides voters with information on how to become a registered voter, election dates, processes absentee requests, answers general questions and completes every legal function regarding the election process,” Hayes said.
Outside of making the voting process as convenient as possible, there’s not much else the township governments can do.
“To some extent, [local governments’ hands] are tied,” Larimer said. “We’ve tried to do things to make it more convenient with motor voter law as far as registering to vote, which is usually the biggest barrier, making it easier with your driver’s license, and they’ve tried to make it more convenient with satellite voting. We’ve seen a lot of communities do that, and you know it hasn’t had a really big effect on primary turnout. I think what seems to affect primary turnout the last two cycles is the nature of the campaign. Who are the candidates, is there excitement about the candidates, are there controversial candidates, those types of things can affect turnout.”
Although Aten, Hayes and other township officials are doing all they can to help voters, election turnout in the township may remain unchanged.
“I have no idea [why turnout was 35 percent],” Aten said. “That’s the million dollar question. I have no idea.”