Election 2012: Community stays attached to its government; confusion crops up on citizenship query

Michigan's primary election did not pass without a couple of bumps -- one for poll workers navigating Michigan election law, another for advocates of a plan to actually dissolve one of Michigan's 1,000-plus local governments.

In Onekama, southwest of Traverse City, a proposal to abolish the government of the village of Onekama -- and thereby leading to a merger with the neighboring Onekama Township -- received a majority of the votes cast in the two entities, 340-305 in unofficial results.

But the measure failed because, under state law, it needed a 2/3 supermajority.

Eric Lupher, a local government expert who worked with the communities on the merger plan, said, "Everything got so lost in politics; they kind of lost sight of what the vote was about."

"I wasn't there ... but from what I understand, there was a lot of campaigning on the idea that the village has assets and by giving them to township, you are just giving away village money; there was no compensation for this 'loss,'" added Lupher, who works for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

Onekama is back to square one, but Lupher doesn't see the consolidation question going away for many of Michigan's smaller communities.

"The reality of municipal finance right now is that many other villages will have to look at this, whether they are scared off (by the Onekama results) or not," he explained. "The financial situation just isn't good for small governments the size of Onekama. They'll face questions of, "How high should we raise taxes or should we think about whether we should we be here at all?"

Citizenship question confuses

Meanwhile in communities stretching from Oakland County to the state capital, a scattering of voters encountered confusion over a question on the application for a ballot:

Are you a citizen of the United States?

Voters who declined to answer the question were told they could not vote, even though Gov. Rick Snyder had vetoed such a requirement recently.

State Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga and a member of the House Redistricting and Elections Committee, took to Facebook on primary day to identify problem spots and advise voters on how to proceed. Byrum said she and her father encountered the confusion from poll workers when they tried to vote, as did two staffers for Bridge, both voting in the Lansing area.

The Secretary of State's office also released instructions on how state law allowed people to not answer the question but still cast a ballot.

Via email, Fred Woodhams of the Department of State told Bridge Tuesday afternoon, "There have been a handful of jurisdictions in which people were refusing to mark an answer and the communities have been contacted specifically by Elections to clarify. We’ve also provided clarification of these rules to the clerks today."

Woodhams also told the Capitol news service MIRS that "I don't see how also asking someone to verify that they're a citizen is a problem. It's a basic yes or no question."

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said via email Wednesday that the governor is "committed to working with the Secretary of State’s Office and the Legislature to improve this process and legislation, and help ensure clarity and certainty."

Senior Editor Derek Melot joined Bridge Magazine in 2011 after serving as an assistant editorial page editor, columnist and reporter at the Lansing State Journal, where he covered state and local issues extensively, earning awards from the Associated Press and Michigan Press Association. The Oklahoma native moved to Michigan in 1999.

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T.W. Donnelly
Thu, 08/09/2012 - 8:52am
The question of whether to ask if a voter was a US citizen was decided when Gov. Snyder vetoed the bill. End of story. All that Secretary of State Ruth Johnson did was to add confusion and intimidation to the voting process when she ignored Gov. Snyder's veto of the proof of citizenship bill. Johnson exceeded her authority and should be held to account. When a citizen registers to vote, some documentation is required. This asking the US citizenship question on the ballot is superfluous and redundant. It appears that Johnson's actions was a form of voter suppression, an all too common trend across the USA in states with Republican majorities. Voters will have a hellish experience at the polls in November if this citizenship question is added to the ballot. The lines will be long, it will be a long ballot,and working people will try to squeeze in voting from the time they leave work and poll closing time. I advocate the use of the absentee ballot to give the voter sufficient time to complete the ballot decisions at home, without dealing with long lines , bad weather, lack of restrooms at the polls. Of course, there is always the possibility of "losing" absentee ballots between the time they are received and when they are supposed to be counted. In any case, Ruth Johnson needs to be relieved of duty if she can not or will not follow Michigan election law . Her self-serving actions are similar to the Thaddeus McCotter debacle, " where a politician thinks that he or she can write their own rules for election. Johnson's activity was an over reach to promote a specific agenda by frustrating citizens trying to vote. Shameful as it was, Johnson should be prosecuted.
Thu, 08/09/2012 - 12:43pm
when you/me apply for a voterregister card at cityhall they already ask/write in all question of citzenship etc. the card get mailed to you house/address that you give to the cityclerk.. I want to know why do the swipe my driverlicense at the voting booth and what information is collected or seen by the voting inspectors? I like a print out of that information, and where do I get it?
Thu, 08/09/2012 - 5:05pm
I was not bothered having to check Yes for citizen. What bothered me, swiping my driver's license, was the long time it took to bring up my record on the laptop. Not finding the exact record, no list of near hits was apparently given. The clerk had to bring up a window to try typing my first, middle, and last names until a successful match was made. Some fixes need to be made quickly here. One more try, before the November general election, will be the 11th Congressional District special election in September. With the November general election and long lines, online access to the Secretary of State election database could be a disaster.