Published in Economic Development

Grand Rapids City Commission to consider election reforms

BY Friday, August 07, 2020 11:17am

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect new information from the city of Grand Rapids.

The Grand Rapids City Commission will meet next week to consider two potential November ballot proposals based on recommendations to improve citywide elections.

The proposals would move city elections to even-numbered years and require general elections regardless of the amount of votes gained during a primary. 

The proposals are among four issues considered last year by the city’s Task Force on Elected Representation, which was formed after local activists pushed for a variety of election reforms.

On Tuesday morning, the city commission will meet to consider ballot language on two of the proposed charter amendments. The first would move city elections from odd- to even-numbered years to coincide with major state and national elections. The task force noted in a report last year that doing so would drive three to four times higher voter turnout while also improving election efficiency. 

If approved, regular nonpartisan elections would be held in August and November. The move would also temporarily suspend term limits — commission members whose term expires in 2021 would have it extended to the 2022 election.

The commission will also consider ballot language on a second proposal that requires a general election even if a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes among primary candidates. The task force said in its report that the change would result in a “more representative democratic process.”

In addition to even-numbered year elections and requiring general elections, the task force recommended against proposals for eight single-member wards and requiring elections to fill elected position vacancies.

In recent years local activists have sought to change the makeup of the city commission from a three-ward structure with two members representing each ward. They have argued the three-ward system — adopted in the early 1900s in an effort to stifle neighborhood voices — is not representative of the city.

While the task force opposed the eight-ward, single-representative proposal, “we believe the current municipal electoral structure in the city can and should be improved to make it more inclusive and representative,” it said in its December report.

More broadly, the 11-member task force agreed that election reforms were needed through charter amendments.

“As we reviewed potential electoral reforms, we often found that the Grand Rapids City Charter did not adequately address the needs of the community,” the task force wrote. “From its sexist language to its poorly defined election processes, we believe there is a need to reform the charter to better meet our needs.”

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