Michigan ballots loaded with tax requests in primary GOP voters may skip

ballot box

Of the 220 tax-related proposals going before voters in March, 69 would benefit local or intermediate school districts. Another 32 would help local agencies maintain roads and bridges. (Shutterstock)

The Breen Township ballot is stuffed. 

When voters in Michigan’s tiny Upper Peninsula town of less than 500 residents cast ballots in the March 10 presidential primary, they’ll also help decide the fate of nine separate tax proposals asking them to approve or renew local and county millages.

The township near Iron Mountain may have the longest ballot in the state, but it is not alone.

Michigan voters will decide at least 245 local ballot proposals in March, an unusually high number for a primary election, which are usually low-turnout affairs. At least 220 of the proposals ask voters to raise taxes or continue assessments for services such as road repairs, public safety and school building maintenance. 

Local officials cite several reasons for putting questions on the March ballot, but election experts say the large number points to a common political calculation: Tax increases have a better chance of passing in low-turnout elections, especially this year if Republican turnout is depressed because President Donald Trump doesn’t face significant primary opposition. 

​“It doesn’t get better than that for the opportunity to pass it,” said Steve Mitchell, a pollster and GOP political consultant with Mitchell Research & Communications in East Lansing. 

Democrats are “far more likely” to support millages, he said. “So to have it on a presidential primary ballot where you’re going to see a disproportionately high turnout of Democrats, that is the best thing someone looking for a millage increase would want. That’s the perfect electorate.”

Critics contend the rush to the March ballot is antidemocratic, an extreme example of a time-honored tradition by local government and school officials to avoid opposition voters by posing tax questions in low-turnout elections. 

Nearly half of all Michigan residents could be impacted by tax measures on the March ballot, including a Detroit Institute of Arts millage renewal in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties; zoo, parks and health millages in Ingham County; and parks, event center and Michigan State University extension taxes in Saginaw County. (Bridge file photo by Riley Beggin)

“Just because it’s a smart strategy doesn’t mean I think it’s appropriate,” said state Rep. Jim Lower, R-Greenville, who previously served in local government and once worked for a consulting firm that conducted polling for groups that wanted to pass local taxes.

Lower was among a trio of GOP legislators who proposed a 2017 bill that would have limited most tax requests to November general election ballots. The measure did not advance and was criticized as an attack on local control, but Lower maintains that deciding local tax hikes in higher turnout elections would be “a more fair way to do it.”

Primary turnout — even in presidential years — is typically a fraction of general elections. A total of 2.5 million Michigan voters cast ballots in contested Democratic and Republican primaries in 2016, barely half of the 4.9 million voters in the November election that year.

Does your community have a ballot issue?

Nearly 100 townships, over 60 school districts, 35 counties and 25 cities have ballot proposals before voters during the Democratic primary on March 10. Use our search tool to find out if your community has a proposal. To see all issues in a county, just type that county's name.

County/taxing districtTax/proposal title issue
Alger County
Alger County
Ambulance Services Millage Proposal To Repeal And Replace Existing Millage
Allegan County
Allegan City
City Of Allegan Proposal 2020-1
Allegan County
Allegan City
City Of Allegan Proposal 2020-2
Allegan County
Dorr Township
Dorr Library Library Millage Proposal
Allegan County
Monterey Township
Monterey Township Proposal For Road Millage
Allegan County
Glenn Public School District
Glenn Public School Bonding Proposal
Allegan County
Saugatuck Public Schools
Saugatuck Public Schools Bonding Proposal
Alpena County
Alpena Public Schools
Alpena Public Schools Bonding Proposal
Antrim County
Central Lake
Village Of Central Lake Proposal 19-1
Arenac County
Arenac County
Separate Tax Limitation Proposal
Arenac County
Lincoln Township
Lincoln Township Road Millage Renewal
Arenac County
Moffatt Township
Proposal 1 Renewal Of Road Millage
Arenac County
Moffatt Township
Proposal 2 Renewal Of Road Millage
Arenac County
Moffatt Township
Proposal 3 Renewal Of Fire Department Millage
Arenac County
Omer City
Mosquito Control
Arenac County
Standish-Sterling Community Schools
Standish-Sterling Community Schools District Arenac Eastern School District Annexation, Division, And Transfer Proposal
Arenac County
Augres-Sims Schools
Augres-Sims School District Arenac Eastern School District Annexation, Division, And Transfer Proposal
Arenac County
Arenac Eastern Schools
Arenac Eastern School District Annexation, Division, And Transfer Proposal
Baraga County
Covington Township
Covington Township Recreation Proposition
Baraga County
Covington Township
Covington Township Ambulance & Fire Proposition
Baraga County
Lanse Township
Ambulance Service Renewal
Baraga County
Lanse Township
Fire Protection Renewal
Baraga County
Spurr Township
Garbage Millage
Baraga County
Spurr Township
Road Millage
Baraga County
Spurr Township
Cemetery Millage
Barry County
Barry County
Millage Renewal Proposition .9672 Mill For Operation Of County-Wide E-911 Emergency Answering And Dispatch System
Bay County
Beaver Township
Road Millage Proposal
Bay County
Gibson Township
Annexation, Division, And Transfer Proposal
Bay County
Kawkawlin Township
A Proposal To Renew Voted Millage For Operations, Maintenance, And Equipment For The Kawkawlin Township Fire Department
Bay County
Pinconning Township
Annexation, Division, And Transfer Proposal
Benzie County
Benzie County
Benzie County 911 Operating Surcharge Reauthorization Proposal
Benzie County
Benzie County
Public Transportation System Millage Renewal Proposal
Benzie County
Crystal Lake Township
Crystal Lake Township Proposal 20-1
Berrien County
Chikaming Township
Public Safety Proposal
Berrien County
St Joseph Charter Township
Public Safety Millage
Berrien County
New Buffalo Area Schools
New Buffalo Area Schools Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Berrien County
Eau Claire Public Schools
Eau Claire Public Schools Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Calhoun County
Battle Creek City
Charter Amendment Proposal 1
Calhoun County
Battle Creek City
Charter Amendment Proposal 2
Cass County
Newberg Township
Newberg Township Renewal Of Fire/Ems Millage
Cheboygan County
Pellston Public Schools
Pellston Public Schools Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Clare County
Clare County
Clare County Transportation Millage Proposal
Clare County
Mid Michigan College
Mid Michigan College Operating Millage Proposal
Clinton County
Clinton County
Millage Proposition County-Wide E-911 Emergency Dispatch
Clinton County
Pewamo-Westphalia Schools
Pewamo-Westphalia Community Schools Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Crawford County
Crawford County
Commission On Aging Facility Bond Proposition
Dickinson County
Dickinson County
Enhanced 911 Millage Proposal
Dickinson County
Dickinson County
Road Millage Request
Dickinson County
Dickinson County
Dickinson-Iron District Health Department Renewal Of Operational Millage
Dickinson County
Dickinson County
Dickinson-Iron District Health Department Additional Operational Millage
Dickinson County
Dickinson County
Dickinson Conservation District Millage
Dickinson County
Felch Township
Ambulance And Rescue Service
Dickinson County
Felch Township
Road Millage
Dickinson County
Tri-Township Abmulance Authority
Tri-Township Ambulance Authority Proposal
Dickinson County
Norway City
Norway-Vulcan Area Schools Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Dickinson County
Norway Township
Proposal 1 Fire Protection And Road Renewal
Dickinson County
Norway Township
Proposal 2 Cemetery Road Improvements And Repairs
Dickinson County
Norway Township
Norway-Vulcan Area Schools Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Dickinson County
Waucedah Township
Road Construction Renewal
Dickinson County
Waucedah Township
Norway-Vulcan Area Schools Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Dickinson County
Breen Township
Road Maintenance Millage
Dickinson County
Breen Township
Parks And Recreation Millage
Dickinson County
Breen Township
Ambulance And Rescue Service
Dickinson County
West Branch Township
Ambulance And Rescue Service
Dickinson County
Norway-Vulcan Area Schools
Norway-Vulcan Area Schools Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Eaton County
Benton Township
Benton Township Proposal To Incorporate As Charter Township
Eaton County
Hamlin Township
Hamlin Township Millage Renewal Emergency Medical And Fire Protection Services
Emmet County
Petoskey City
City Initiative
Emmet County
Petoskey City
City Referendum
Emmet County
Pellston Public Schools
Pellston Public Schools Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Genesee County
Davison Community Schools
Bonding Proposal
Genesee County
Flint Community Schools
Bonding Proposal
Genesee County
Flint Community Schools
Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Genesee County
Mott Community College
Bond Proposition
Gladwin County
Gladwin Community Schools
Gladwin Community Schools Bonding Proposal
Gogebic County
Gogebic County
9-1-1 Operation Surcharge Proposal
Gratiot County
Arcada Township
Renewal Township Fire Protection And Emergency Response Millage Proposition
Gratiot County
Sumner Township
Sumner Township Fire Protection Millage Renewal
Gratiot County
Sumner Township
Sumner Township Hall And Community Center Millage Renewal
Gratiot County
Sumner Township
Sumner Township Rescue Millage Renewal
Gratiot County
Ashley Community Schools
I. Ashley Community Schools Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Gratiot County
Ashley Community Schools
Ii. Ashley Community Schools Operating Millage Proposal
Gratiot County
Gratiot-Isabella Resd
Gratiot-Isabella Regional Education Service District Special Education Millage Proposal (Restoration Of Headlee Reduction)
Hillsdale County
Pittsford Area Schools
Pittsford Area Schools Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Hillsdale County
Litchfield Community Schools
Litchfield Community Schools Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Hillsdale County
Hillsdale Isd
Hillsdale County Intermediate School District Area Career And Technical Education Proposal
Houghton County
Duncan Township
Voted Operating
Houghton County
Duncan Township
Voted Fire
Houghton County
Duncan Township
Voted Ambulance
Houghton County
Duncan Township
Voted Fire
Houghton County
Portage Township
Road And Street Repair
Houghton County
Portage Township
Fire Departments
Houghton County
Portage Township
Fire Departments
Houghton County
Quincy Township
Renewal Of Quincy Township Operations
Houghton County
Quincy Township
Renewal Of Quincy Township Fire Protection
Houghton County
Stanton Township
Stanton Township Fire Departments Operational Millage
Houghton County
Calumet
Village Of Calumet Ordinance No. 154 Referendum
Houghton County
Copper City
Fire Protection Millage
Huron County
Huron Township
Huron Township Road Millage
Huron County
Caseville Public School
Caseville Public School Bonding Proposal
Huron County
Laker Schools
Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker Schools Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Ingham County
Ingham County
Ingham County Potter Park Zoo And Potter Park Operational Millage Question
Ingham County
Ingham County
Countywide System Of Trails And Parks Millage Renewal Question
Ingham County
Ingham County
Ingham County Health Services Millage
Ingham County
East Lansing City
Ballot Question
Ingham County
Williamstown Township
Township Of Williamstown Road Improvements Bond Proposal
Ingham County
Ingham Isd
Ingham Intermediate School District Special Education Millage Proposal (Restoration Of Headlee Reduction)
Ingham County
Capital Area Transportation Authority
Capital Area Transportation Authority (Cata) City Of Lansing, City Of East Lansing, Meridian Township, Lansing Township And Delhi Township
Ionia County
Portland Public Schools
Portland Public Schools Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Iron County
Iron County
Dickinson-Iron District Health Department Renewal Of Operational Millage
Iron County
Iron County
Dickinson-Iron District Health Department Additional Operational Millage
Iron County
Iron County
County Veterans Millage
Isabella County
Gratiot-Isabella Resd
Gratiot-Isabella Regional Education Service District Special Education Millage Proposal (Restoration Of Headlee Reduction)
Jackson County
Springport Township
Springport Township Police Millage Renewal
Kalamazoo County
Schoolcraft Township
Schoolcraft Township Incorporation As Charter Township
Kalamazoo County
Schoolcraft Community Schools
Schoolcraft Community Schools Bonding Proposal
Kalamazoo County
Central County Transportation Authority
Central County Transportation Authority
Kalkaska County
Clearwater Township
Proposal To Renew Road Millage
Kalkaska County
Clearwater Township
Proposal To Renew Fire Equipment Millage
Kalkaska County
Springfield Township
Proposal For Ambulance Renewal Millage
Kalkaska County
Springfield Township
Proposal For Fire Protection Millage
Kalkaska County
Springfield Township
Proposal To Renew General Operations Millage
Kent County
Grattan Township
Grattan Township Road Millage Proposal
Kent County
Sparta Township
Sparta Township Fire Equipment Millage Renewal
Kent County
Sparta Township
Sparta Township Fire Station Improvement And Vehicles Purchase Renewal
Kent County
Wyoming Public Schools
Wyoming Public Schools Operating Millage Proposal
Lake County
Newkirk Township
Cadillac Area Public Schools Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Leelanau County
Bingham Township
Suttons Bay-Bingham Fire & Rescue Authority Fire, Rescue And Ambulance Services Millage Increase
Leelanau County
Suttons Bay Township
Suttons Bay-Bingham Fire & Rescue Authority Fire, Rescue And Ambulance Services Millage Increase
Lenawee County
Clinton Township
Clinton Fire Department Millage Renewal
Lenawee County
Sand Creek Community Schools
I. Sand Creek Community Schools Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Lenawee County
Sand Creek Community Schools
Ii. Sand Creek Community Schools Sinking Fund Millage Renewal Proposal
Luce County
Tahquamenon Area Schools
Tahquamenon Area School Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Macomb County
Center Line City
City Proposal Public Safety Millage Renewal
Macomb County
Clinton Township
Township Of Clinton Proposed Ordinance A Proposal To Amend Part 8 Of The Codified Ordinances Of The Charter Township Of Clinton, To Add A New Chapter 803, Marihuana Establishments.
Macomb County
Memphis City
Capital Improvement/Capital Project Millage
Macomb County
Lakeview Public Schools
Lakeview Public Schools Operating Millage Proposal
Macomb County
Macomb Isd
Macomb Intermediate School District Regional Enhancement Millage Proposal
Macomb County
Macomb County Art Institute Authority
Renewal Of Macomb County Art Institute Authority Millage
Manistee County
Manistee County
Manistee County Transportation Dial-A-Ride General Operations Renewal And Increase
Marquette County
Gwinn Area Community Schools
Gwinn Area Community Schools Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Mason County
Free Soil Township
Free Soil Township Ballot Request
Mecosta County
Big Rapids City
Marihuana Ordinance Proposal
Mecosta County
Chippewa Township
Marihuana Ordinance Proposal
Mecosta County
Chippewa Hills School District
Chippewa Hills School District Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Menominee County
Menominee County
Menominee County 9-1-1 And Central Dispatch Millage Proposal
Menominee County
Menominee County
Menominee County Library Millage Proposal
Menominee County
Mellen Township
Mellen Township Emergency Medical And Fire Protection Services Millage Proposal
Missaukee County
Missaukee County
Missaukee County Proposition For Recycling Millage
Monroe County
Erie Township
Law Enforcement Renewal Proposal
Monroe County
Mason Consolidated Schools
Bonding Proposal
Montcalm County
Montcalm County
County Of Montcalm Library Millage Proposal
Montcalm County
Montcalm County
County Of Montcalm Law Enforcement Millage Proposal
Montcalm County
Sidney Township
Sidney Township Proposal To Set The Number Of State Licensed Marijuana Establishments Allowed Within Its Boundaries
Montmorency County
Albert Township
Albert Township Road Millage
Montmorency County
Briley Township
Briley Township Parks Millage
Montmorency County
Briley Township
Briley Township Cemetery Millage
Montmorency County
Hillman
Village Of Hillman Millage Restoration Proposal
Montmorency County
Atlanta Community Schools
Atlanta Community School District Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Montmorency County
Hillman Community Schools
Hillman Community Schools Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Muskegon County
Holton Township
Recreational (Adult Use) Marihuana Establishments Ordinance Proposal
Muskegon County
Oakridge Public Schools
Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Muskegon County
White Lake Fire Authority
White Lake Fire Authority Levy Of Additional Millage Of 1.65 Mills For 4 Years
Oakland County
Bloomfield Township
Millage Renewal Request
Oakland County
Huntington Woods City
Fire Fighters And Police Officers Pension And Retirement System Proposal
Oakland County
Brandon School District
Brandon School District In The Counties Of Oakland And Lapeer Bonding Proposal
Oakland County
Southfield Public Schools
Replacement Operating Millage Proposal
Oakland County
Clarkston Community Schools
Operating Millage Proposal
Oakland County
Ferndale Public Schools
Bond Proposal
Oakland County
Ferndale Public Schools
Non-Principal Residence Operating Millage Proposal
Oakland County
Farmington Public School District
Bond Proposal
Oakland County
Pontiac School District
School Improvement Bond Proposal
Oakland County
Pontiac School District
Building And Site Sinking Fund Tax Renewal
Oakland County
Birmingham Public Schools
School Improvement Bond Proposal
Oakland County
Oakland County Art Institute Authority
Renewal Of Oakland County Art Institute Authority Millage
Oceana County
Hart City
City Of Hart Street Repair And Improvements Millage
Oceana County
Weare Township
Weare Township Millage For Fire Protection And Prevention Purposes
Ontonagon County
Interior Township
General Fund
Oscoda County
Mio Ausable Schools
Mio Ausable Schools Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Ottawa County
Park Township
Park Township Airport Millage
Ottawa County
Robinson Township
Robinson Township Road Maintenance Millage Renewal Proposition
Presque Isle County
Rogers City Area Fire Department Authority
Fire Department Operation Millage Renewal Proposal
Roscommon County
Roscommon Area Public Schools
Roscommon Area Public Schools Operating Millage Proposal
Roscommon County
Crawford Oscoda Ogemaw Roscommon Isd
C.O.O.R. Intermediate School District Special Education Millage Proposal (Restoration Of Headlee Reduction)
Roscommon County
Crawford Oscoda Ogemaw Roscommon Isd
C.O.O.R. Intermediate School District Operating Millage Proposal
Saginaw County
Saginaw County
Proposal 20-1 Saginaw County Parks & Recreation Renewal - Proposal
Saginaw County
Saginaw County
Proposal 20-2 Saginaw County Event Center Renewal - Increase Proposal
Saginaw County
Saginaw County
Proposal 20-3 Michigan State University Extension New Proposal
Saginaw County
Carrollton Township
Road Improvement Millage Proposition
Saginaw County
Saginaw City
Proposal 1 Police And Fire Services Special Assessment District Renewal
Saginaw County
Saginaw City
Proposal 2 Saginaw Transit Authority Regional Services Millage Proposal
Saginaw County
Buena Vista Charter Township
Buena Vista Charter Township Police And Fire Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Saginaw County
Chesaning Union Schools
Chesaning Union Schools Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Saginaw County
Swan Valley School District
Swan Valley School District Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Saginaw County
Hemlock Public Schools
Hemlock Public School District Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
St Clair County
Casco Township
Renewal Of Millage For Road Improvements And Maintenance
St Clair County
Yale Public Schools
Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
St Clair County
Yale Public Schools
Sinking Fund Millage Renewal Proposal
St Clair County
East China Schools
Bonding Proposal
St Joseph County
Glen Oaks Community College
Glen Oaks Community College Campus Improvements Additional Millage Proposal
Sanilac County
Sanilac County
Renewal Of County Recycling Millage
Sanilac County
Sanilac County
Renewal Of Sanilac County Library Millage
Sanilac County
Sanilac County
Renewal Of Medical Control Emergency Services Millage
Sanilac County
Forester Township
Fire Protection Millage
Sanilac County
Fremont Township
Roads & Bridges Improvement Millage Renewal
Sanilac County
Marion Township
Road Millage Renewal
Sanilac County
Moore Township
Zoning Ordinance Amendment
Sanilac County
Marlette Community Schools
Operating Millage Renewal Proposal
Shiawassee County
Durand City
Millage To Subsidize Fire And Ambulance Services
Shiawassee County
New Haven Township
New Haven Township Ballot Proposal
Shiawassee County
Owosso City
City Of Owosso Bond Proposal For Street Improvements
Tuscola County
Dayton Township
Dayton Township Road Millage Increase Proposal
Tuscola County
Denmark Township
Denmark Township Road Millage Proposal Renewal
Tuscola County
Denmark Township
Denmark Township Road Millage Proposal Increase
Tuscola County
Elmwood Township
Elmwood Township Road Millage Renewal
Tuscola County
Indianfields Township
Indianfields Township Road Repair New Millage
Tuscola County
Kingston Township
Kingston Township Road Millage Renewal
Tuscola County
Novesta Township
Novesta Township Road Millage
Tuscola County
Mayville
Village Of Mayville Street Maintenance Millage Renewal
Tuscola County
Mayville
Village Of Mayville Street Maintenance Millage Increase
Tuscola County
Millington Community Schools
I. Millington Community School District Operating Millage Proposal
Tuscola County
Millington Community Schools
Ii. Millington Community School District Operating Millage Proposal
Van Buren County
Van Buren County
Van Buren County Road Millage Renewal Proposal
Van Buren County
Van Buren County
Van Buren County Public Transit Millage Renewal Proposal
Van Buren County
Van Buren County
Van Buren County Veteran Services Millage Proposal
Van Buren County
Antwerp Township
Antwerp Township New Road Millage Proposal
Van Buren County
Van Buren Isd
Van Buren Intermediate School District Special Education Millage Proposal
Washtenaw County
Washtenaw Community College
Washtenaw Community College Millage Renewal And Restoration
Wayne County
Wayne County
Renewal Of Wayne County Art Institute Authority Millage
Wayne County
Ecorse City
Proposal To Allow Marijuana Facilities In Ecorse
Wayne County
Gibraltar City
Infrastructure Improvement Millage
Wayne County
Lincoln Park City
Proposed Charter Amendment No. 1 Chapter Vii Section 5 Renewal Police And Fire Millage
Wayne County
Wayne City
Proposal No. 1
Wayne County
Wayne City
Proposal No. 2
Wayne County
Wayne City
Proposal No. 3
Wayne County
Westland City
City Of Westland Sanitation Millage Ballot Proposal
Wayne County
Crestwood School District
Crestwood School District Operating Millage Proposal
Wayne County
Wyandotte Public Schools
School District Of The City Of Wyandotte Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Wayne County
Grosse Ile Township Schools
Building And Site Sinking Fund Millage Replacement Proposal
Wayne County
Westwood Community Schools
Westwood Community School District Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Wayne County
Plymouth-Canton Community Schools
School Improvement Bond Proposal
Wayne County
Northville Public Schools
Northville Public Schools Sinking Fund Millage Proposal
Wayne County
Southgate Schools
Southgate Community School District Bonding Proposal
Wayne County
Allen Park Public Schools
Allen Park Public Schools Operating Millage Proposal
Wexford County
Cadillac Area Public Schools
Cadillac Area Public Schools Operating Millage Renewal Proposal

Election officials anticipate turnout could increase this year because of a new law allowing Michigan voters to request absentee ballots without an excuse. 

As of Feb. 13, absentee applications were up 60 percent compared to the same point in 2016, according to Michigan Secretary of State spokesman Mike Doyle.

In Breen Township, where 163 out of 362 registered voters cast ballots in the presidential primary four years ago, local officials are asking voters to approve a road maintenance millage, a new parks millage and to renew an ambulance and rescue services millage. 

Voters there will also decide Dickinson County proposals for an enhanced 911 millage renewal, a new road maintenance millage, health renewal and expansion millages, a new conservation district millage and a tri-township ambulance millage. 

“On roads, you’re from Michigan, so I’m sure you understand,” said Breen Township Supervisor Mickey Beauchamp.

“We’ve never had a problem with passing our millages before, but we’ve got a different atmosphere right now — I guess it’s nationwide — where everything is split between Republicans and Democrats,” he said. 

Nearly half of all Michigan residents could be impacted by tax measures on the March ballot, including a Detroit Institute of Arts millage renewal in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties; zoo, parks and health millages in Ingham County; and parks, event center and Michigan State University extension taxes in Saginaw County. 

As Bridge Magazine reported, the DIA millage does not expire for another two years, prompting complaints the museum was trying to avoid anti-tax voters. Museum officials have defended the timing, saying costs of sending campaign literature to likely voters would be too high during a heavy-turnout general elections this November or in 2022.

That’s an argument echoed by school officials asking voters to approve bonds and other taxes. 

“For some districts, it’s easier to get information out in March than it is in August or November, especially in a presidential election year, because the local elections get lost in the noise,” said Jennifer Smith, director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards

Of the 220 tax-related proposals going before voters in March, 69 would benefit local or intermediate school districts. Another 32 would help local agencies maintain roads and bridges.

Smith said school districts are asking for taxes now to take advantage of historically low interest rates for building projects and avoid potential increases by the fall.

“Our school districts are looking for involvement, not to hide things,” she said. 

Zach Gorchow, executive editor and publisher of the Gongwer subscription news service in Lansing, has spent years tracking local ballot questions across Michigan. He said he is not surprised by the volume of March proposals. Officials often pack ballots in statewide elections “because the locals don’t have to pick up the cost” of running them, he said. 

An active Democratic presidential primary in the battleground state could “skew the electorate” toward approving millages, Gorchow said. He recalled that 2012, when there was only a contested presidential primary on the Republican side, “was definitely one of the worst cycles for millage votes, because the electorate skewed very conservative.”

Like much of rural and northern Michigan, Breen Township and Dickinson County have turned increasingly Republican in recent election cycles. But local officials aren’t sure what to expect in the upcoming presidential primary, where voters will decide several tax questions.

Primary turnout barely topped 32 percent four years ago in Dickinson County, where 6,903 voters cast ballots in the Democratic and Republican contests. That was less than half of the 13,359 voters in the general election, which Trump won with 65 percent of the vote. 

While Republicans may not be as motivated to vote in the presidential primary this spring because Trump faces only token opposition, Dickinson County Clerk Dolly Cook said she expects some GOP voters will “cross over” to vote for the “weak guy or the weak woman or whatever” in the Democratic primary to help select a nominee they think Trump will beat. 

“I can see that happening now with some of these absentee requests,” she said. 

Michigan’s “closed” primary election process does not require party registration. Voters can choose to participate in either the Democratic or Republican primary. There’s also a third, non-partisan option for voters who only want to weigh in on local ballot proposals. 

“Political people like myself are going to think very long and hard about whether or not they want to cast a vote for symbolism or whether or not they want to cast a vote for a crazy person that has no chance,” said state Rep. Beau LaFave, an Iron Mountain Republican who represents Dickinson County. 

LaFave supports Trump but is “certainly thinking about” crossing over to wreak havoc in the Democratic primary. 

“I know it’s a secret ballot, but I just kind of would feel [bad] if I actually voted for Bernie Sanders, even if it was just strategic,” he said. 

Sanders won Michigan’s Democratic presidential primary four years ago, narrowly topping Hillary Clinton in Dickinson County and statewide. The Vermont U.S. senator is one of eight active candidates that will appear on the Democratic primary ballot in March, along with the names of seven others who already have dropped out of the race. 

Despite the potential for crossover voting, tax proposals face ideal conditions in the March primary, said Mitchell, who advised various local entities on ballot proposal strategy. 

While Republicans voters in recent Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary turned out in larger than expected numbers, “there are still far more Democrats voting,” he said. 

Local government officials have other reasons to put tax proposals on the March ballot. 

If voters reject a proposal in the spring, officials can ask them again in the fall, said Cook, the Dickinson County clerk. She noted that holding a countywide question for 2021 is a non-starter for many local governments because they’d have to pay for an off-year election themselves.

“It would be too costly to do that, so we put them on ahead of time” in elections paid for by the state, Cook said. 

Dickinson Conservation District organizers have already taken their request to voters several times, most recently in the 2018 general election, when their proposal failed by just 226 votes, roughly 2 percentage points. They’ll try again in March. 

The countywide ballot measure would create a levy of 10 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value over five years, generating an estimated $89,000 annually for local conservation programs, including water quality studies and forestry support.  

“It’s a totally nonpartisan issue, so I hope it sells well to everybody,” said Bill Rice, who chairs the board of the nonprofit conservation district that was created by state law but rarely funded. “We looked at the calendar in 2020 and we just thought that the presidential primary in March might be the best shot.” 

Low GOP turnout might aid the effort, but Rice is hoping for broad support. 

We should be out voting no matter what, whether it’s a slow year or a really usual year like this one.”

“We should be out voting no matter what, whether it’s a slow year or a really usual year like this one,” he said. “My first message is to try to encourage them.”

While local and county officials rushed to put proposals on the March ballot, they now fear the avalanche could snow them under. 

Breen Township voters who might otherwise support one or more tax-related measure may feel overwhelmed by the nine they find on their ballot, said Beauchamp, the supervisor.

“That’s going to be a factor,” he said “I don’t think it’s good to have that many on there, because once they start saying ‘no’ they just start going down the list.”

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Comments

Leslie Watson
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 7:44am

Michigan Voter Information Center provides information on your registration and what ballot proposals are on the Primary Election Ballot.

Carol Joyce
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 8:27am

Elections now are about gaming the system rather than honest referendums on the issue at hand. Shame on all of us...those that don’t vote and those that handle the elections.

Arjay
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 8:27am

Of course the elections in which very few are expected to vote are loaded with initiatives that politicians wish no one would show up to vote.

How about a law that says for any tax to pass or be renewed requires the consent of 50%+1 of the REGISTERED voters in that district. Not 50% of the number voting, but 50% of all that are registered.

If Voters Not Politicians is looking for something else to work on, this, in my opinion, would be ideal.

Rose
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 9:38am

It was interesting to follow the Dearborn school bond proposal last fall. It was the ONLY item on the ballot and it failed. Historically, Dearborn tends to vote yes on anything/everything related to school funding, so this was a bit of a shock. Based on social media and word of mouth (not verifiable data), it appears that many voters* rejected the bond simply because of the perception that putting it on at a time with expected low turn out smacked of dishonesty. Some thought that it was put on the ballot then so as to encourage teachers to influence the kids to influence the parents to vote for it. People are paying attention to the timing of these requests.

(*Others rejected it as a function of "enough is enough" related to Dearborn property taxes. They are proportionally higher than many other communities for school taxes.)

Barry Visel
Wed, 02/19/2020 - 10:48am

This is a great idea! Goes along with the ‘rank order’ voting concept where a candidate has to get 50% +1 of the voters that do vote to win...but your idea is even better.

Disgruntled taxpayer
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 9:20am

I've served multiple terms in local government and in my experience the sole reason for placing a ballot proposal on a March primary or holding a spring special election is to engineer the outcome. Jennifer Smith's comments are particularly laughable as the MASB (and Thrum Law Firm, which represents many school districts in the state) consistently recommend that local school districts take this approach. They call it election strategy. Any right-minded person calls it trying to sneak something past the voters when few are paying attention. I've heard some doozy attempts to justify these actions, but at the end of the day there is always a "fairer" option that is rejected. It's an epidemic that will continue unless voters become more engaged and turn out in full force for every election, not just prominent ones.

Agnosticrat 2.0
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 2:10pm

Hard to "sneak" something past voters... If they are actual voters, and not sometimes voters.
Simple solution is to register for absentee ballot for every ballot not that we are allowed one with no reason.
It's automatic...

Scott Roelofs
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 10:20am

The idea that President Trump supporters will not vote in the MI primary may be flawed. I was considering voting for Crazy Bernie, but decided against it after seeing the result of the New Hampshire primary. Bernie doesn't need Republican help. I think the President's supporters are "chomping at the bit" to cast a vote for him even in the primary. I know I am.

Joe
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 10:44am

In many of the rural communities, there abundant numbers of vacation homes. These owners have no voting rights since it is not their homestead, they are already paying an exorbitant tax because it again is not their “homestead “ . Then local officials load the ballot with taxes that a light turnout is almost sure to pass . Guess we never did get rid of the carpetbaggers !

Bones
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 12:38pm

Imagine having the hall to complain about paying property taxes on vacation homes

Arjay
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 12:41pm

I discussed this issue with former Representative Jeff Noble who was receptive. My position was that one who has 2 homes should not be able to vote for 2 different town / city candidates, but should surely be able to vote for issues like taxes that affect their wallets.He did some initial work in trying to determine what costs were involved, but unfortunately was voted out of office to be replaced by one who is not as available to constituents as Jeff was.

Jeff also proposed a law for disabled veterans that would give them property tax relief in a percentage equal to that of their military disability. In my opinion, an extremely small price to pay for those that put their lives in harms way every day. Again, it got lost when the democrats took over.

Matt
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 6:16pm

Why shouldn't a tax payer be able to vote for two different sets of local officials if they pay taxes in each political unit? Isn't this just taxation with representation?

Bones
Thu, 02/20/2020 - 10:21am

Yes, the landed gentry should be able to vote in multiple elections by dint of their wealth. SMFH

middle of the mit
Tue, 02/25/2020 - 11:26pm

Uhh I don't know? Maybe the Homestead exemption act?

https://www.michigan.gov/taxes/0,4676,7-238-43535_43539-210891--,00.html

And also the fact that if you republicans start pushing YOUR agenda down the throats of your rural brethren, You might find that your rural brethren PUSH back.

They are allies now, but if you continue your elitist attitude....

You will regret it.

marco
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 11:20am

The biggest scam on the March ballot is the "renewal" of the tax on property taxpayers in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties to "support" the Detroit Institute of Arts and provide "free" admission.

Bones
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 12:39pm

Oh no, god forbid our tax dollars go to subsidize art and culture that can be enjoyed by the public for free at point of use.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 6:01pm

There is a reason why "free" was in quotes.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 12:08pm

Voters crossing over to select a candidate on the other side of the ballot (and screwing up a millage vote in the process)???

Nah! That would NEVER happen next month.

:-)

Bryan Watson
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 12:29pm

The more important point is this: Why does any election have a "low turnout"?

The March 10 election will go half-way to determining who our next president will be. Isn't that something everyone would want to contribute to - whether you're for or against the candidates, you won't get a choice in November if your candidate loses in March.

We should be working to solve the "low turnout" problem, instead of mandating when a ballot measure can be raised or putting up with "gaming the system".

Promote the Vote went a long way in 2018 to make voting easier - Vote From Home, at your own schedule; register to vote up to the day of the election; and more.

Don't restrict the ballot measures - Promote the Vote.

John Q. Public
Tue, 02/18/2020 - 8:31pm

Here's something I'd vote for: billing political parties for the costs we incur for them to choose their general election candidates. Primary elections stink.

Barry Visel
Wed, 02/19/2020 - 10:44am

I suggested this to my township clerk years ago. Great idea.

middle of the mit
Tue, 02/25/2020 - 11:38pm

The chances that I would ever vote for a republican are nil, ex nil oh, zip, zero but I agree with you. If the parties want to be exclusionary, and not allow independents or un affiliated or those that are not willing to declare, then the parties need to fund their own, The only problem I have with that prospect is that the other parties will end up going broke.

That is why there should be public funding for ALL PUBLIC CAMPAIGNS, And it should be only a 1 year maximum for President, 4 months for House and Senate campaigns.

George
Wed, 02/19/2020 - 10:17am

I don't know if the analogy is perfect , but picking the election to put your proposal on the ballot seems an awful lot like manipulating a voting district in order to perpetuate your party's stay in office a la gerrymandering. I hope that all of the proposals pass. Ain't Democracy great?!

Kris
Sat, 02/22/2020 - 12:35am

This is a play with words.
Democrats are “far more likely” to support millages, he said. “So to have it on a presidential primary ballot where you’re going to see a disproportionately high turnout of Democrats, that is the best thing someone looking for a millage increase would want. That’s the perfect electorate.”

Ian M
Mon, 03/09/2020 - 11:54am

More bureaucrats "abusing" the system to raise taxes.

Al Spiker
Tue, 03/10/2020 - 6:37pm

We lived in Michigan most of our lives, but will never move back. Taxes are a joke, not only there but everywhere. Accounts Receivable Tax
Building Permit Tax
CDL license Tax
Cigarette Tax
Corporate Income Tax
Dog License Tax
Excise Taxes
Federal Income Tax
Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)
Fishing License Tax
Food License Tax
Fuel Permit Tax
Gasoline Tax (currently 44.75 cents per gallon)
Gross Receipts Tax
Hunting License Tax
Inheritance Tax
Inventory Tax
IRS Interest Charges IRS Penalties (tax on top of tax)
Liquor Tax
Luxury Taxes
Marriage License Tax
Medicare Tax
Personal Property Tax
Property Tax
Real Estate Tax
Service Charge Tax
Social Security Tax
Road Usage Tax
Recreational Vehicle Tax
Sales Tax
School Tax
State Income Tax
State Unemployment Tax (SUTA)
Telephone Federal Excise Tax
Telephone Federal Universal Service Fee Tax
Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Taxes
Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax
Telephone Recurring and Nonrecurring Charges Tax
Telephone State and Local Tax
Telephone Usage Charge Tax
Utility Taxes
Vehicle License Registration Tax
Vehicle Sales Tax
Watercraft Registration Tax
Well Permit Tax
Workers Compensation Tax
STILL THINK THIS IS FUNNY?
Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, & our nation was the most prosperous in the world. No matter how you look at it all of these were designed to take money from the working American people.