GR commission poised to put election changes on November ballot

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Some big changes are being proposed for when and how Grand Rapids elects its leaders.

City commissioners have called a special meeting for Tuesday to discuss ballot language on two initiatives that will likely appear on the November ballot.

A vote during that meeting is expected to be just a formality. The same people that brought term limits to the city are behind the two measures and already have the signatures needed to put the questions on the November ballot.

The first proposal would move city elections to even years in November, sharing the ballot with presidential and gubernatorial candidates. Currently, those elections are held in off years.

Supporters say the move will save money and address voter suppression issues by improving turnout.

“If you think of voting in an odd year and getting maybe 12% of the city to turn out to elect our officials, compared to gubernatorial or presidential elections, where you have 50% to 70% of people turning out, it makes a big difference,” Bonnie Burke of Empower the Citizens said.

Proposal 2 would end the practice that allows candidates to be elected to city office by winning 50% percent of the vote plus one during a primary.

“With low voter turnout in an odd year, it’s pretty easy for them to win in August — and most people, quite frankly, are on vacation and not thinking about voting,” Burke said.

Empower the Citizens’ proposals were among several suggested changes to the city charter related to elected representation that a task force was assigned to look into last year. That task force recommended both changes be placed on the ballot.

“I think it’s important because when you have a very small group of people electing our city officials, it’s always bad for the general population,” Burke said.

Separately, the Grand Rapids Democracy Initiative had proposed an amendment to the city charter that would expand both the city commission to eight wards, each served by a single commissioner. Under the current system, there are three wards with two commissioners each. News 8 reached out to the group for an update on the status of that effort, but has not heard back.

If the commission approves the ballot language, it will be sent to the Michigan attorney general and governor for approval.

The Tuesday meeting is set for 10 a.m. and will be held virtually. It will also be streamed on the city’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Public participation will be over the phone. A call-in number will be announced at the beginning of the meeting.