Warren, Garden City voters OK school bond measures

Voters in Warren and Garden City approved bond measures to upgrade school district facilities, according to unofficial results, and a similar proposal in Grand Blanc was leading in early returns in an election that saw a surge in absentee ballots amid the pandemic.

Even before polls opened Tuesday, nearly 22% of Michigan voters already had cast absentee ballots through mail, doubling the turnout of an average May election, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Tuesday.

Voters across the state cast ballots in municipalities in 31 other counties that held elections for school millage proposals or small local races.

Macomb County voters overwhelmingly approved the $45.5 million bond measure for Warren Woods Schools, according to unofficial results. 

The bond, approved by 62% of voters, will continue work that began under a $20 million bond approved by voters in 2017. The district’s tax rate is projected to remain at or below the number of mills levied in 2019, the district said. The estimated millage to be levied in 2020 to service the issue of bonds is 0.94 mill. 

Warren Woods Schools late Tuesday shared the county’s election results in a Twitter post, thanking residents for their support.

“We are are so proud of the trust you place in us to do what is best for kids,” the tweet said.

In Garden City in Wayne County, residents weighed in on a school bond proposal that would levy an additional 1.65 mills over the prior year’s millage levy to raise $50 million for facility improvements. The bond would be paid back over 26 years. 

The measure had 62% approval, based on unofficial returns from Wayne County. 

Officials said the measure would cost the average home with a taxable value of $40,000 about $66 more per year. 

The bond is expected be combined with a prior, 2002 bond to upgrade the district’s five elementary buildings, officials noted in a video on the district website. 

The district in November won approval from voters for a 1.93-mill, five-year sinking fund renewal to raise $1.05 million in 2021 for the construction and repair of school buildings. 

Grand Blanc Community Schools put an $87 million bond before voters to remodel school buildings and athletic facilities and fields. Officials say the estimated millage to be levied in 2020 would be 0.96 mill, for a 0-mill net increase over the prior year’s levy. 

The district covers portions of Genesee and Oakland counties. Early results showed the measure was passing with about 58% of the vote in Genesee County, while returns for Oakland County were not immediately available. 

To encourage mail-only votes, the state spent an extra $600,000 on the election to mail out absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the communities where an election was being held, an effort some local clerks credited for the higher absentee turnout. The mailing was completed based on an executive order Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued in March.

Benson, who visited polling locations in Ottawa, Kent and Allegan counties on Election Day, told reporters “voters are clearly taking advantage of their right to vote from home.”

Asked whether she was considering mailing absentee applications to voters in the August and November elections, Benson said her focus instead will be on education.

“My goal for the November election is to ensure that every voter knows that they have the right to vote by mail,” she added.

Benson, following Whitmer’s executive order, mailed absentee ballot applications last month to every registered voter in those communities, likely increasing participation this year, clerks said.  

Whitmer’s March 27 executive order also required clerks to condense voting precincts into one that could be used by voters who needed assistance voting or were unable to do so by mail. Clerks were expected to implement safety protocols to ensure voters kept appropriate distances at the polling location. 

“The fewer people we have lining up at polling places the better, ensuring Michiganders safely practice social distancing while allowing them to safely exercise their right to vote in local elections,” Whitmer said in a statement before the vote.

Republican legislative leaders had pushed back on Whitmer’s order, arguing that elections should be delayed or canceled instead. 

Benson gave each community the opportunity to delay their ballot questions to a later election and several did, the Detroit Democrat said Saturday in a Detroit News opinion piece.

By Thursday, the mailed absentee ballots and additional trained volunteers had already driven absentee turnout to 17% of registered voters, ahead of a previous May record of 14% turnout, Benson said. Voters had until 8 p.m. Tuesday to complete their ballot and return it to the clerk’s office.

“This demonstrates that voters are easily receiving and returning their ballots, weighing in on critical local issues, without leaving their home,” Benson said. 

cferretti@detroitnews.com 

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