By David Fleet
Groveland Twp.-On Monday night, the township board of trustees voted 5-0 for a resolution in opposition to possible legislation that would provide township boards the option to have its elected officers as nonpartisan on the ballot.
The Michigan Townships Association Board of Directors requested members of township boards, like Atlas, Brandon and Groveland to discuss the nonpartisan issue in hopes it best reflects the values of townships as communities as opposed to what is in the best political interest of incumbent officials. The MTA, represents more than 1,200 townships statewide.
“This has been kicked around for quite a while,” said Tere Onica, township supervisor. “A lot of people don’t think the local level should be partisan office. Some of the villages are nonpartisan.”
Onica added that candidates would also not be running on the August primary ballot, which stays within partisan lines.
“I’ve always said on the local level we are really nonpartisan, we have a job to do so it’s a 50-50 thing,” she said. “But, I agree with the party affiliation and lining up with values, it’s very helpful.”
At issue is House Bill 4948 introduced on Sept. 13, 2017 by Michigan Rep. Jeff Yaroch (R) of the 33rd House District. The bill was not acted on and died last year. However, Yaroch says with some tweaks, he will consider introducing similar legislation.
“I like having partisan, said Patrick Major, township trustee. “Because the general public, if they align with one party or the other then they can get a general feel if that candidate aligns with them. It’s a down and dirty easy way for people to figure out which candidate would be most likely to represent them. That’s why we have two parties and the differences between parties.”
On April 1, the Brandon Board of Trustees voted 6-0 in opposition to the legislation that would allow boards to have the partisanship option.Also, on April 8, Groveland Township voted 4-0 to remain partisan.
“We should consider ourselves nonpartisan and what we are doing for the most part for our township business,” said Katie Vick, township clerk.
The reasons given by the MTA for not wanting nonpartisan elections were all supported by the board. The reasons given are that partisan elections are inherent in the culture and traditions of Michigan township government; townships and counties are statutory governments; part affiliations help voters know a candidate’s values; township board composition should change as electors’ expectations and ideologies change; township board decisions can reflect an expansive or a limited role of government consistent with party ideologies; partisan local elections are instructive to voters as to how state and national partisan elections work and because the nonpartisan section is at the bottom of a long ballot, “voter fatigue” results in fewer votes in the nonpartisan section of the ballot.
The reasons given by the MTA gave to support optional nonpartisan township elections include, township elective offices in some other states are nonpartisan; nonpartisan offices are an option available to cities as a charter provision; township officials should be elected on merit, not party affiliation; as some communities become more politically polarized, party affiliation disadvantages candidates who identify with community’s minority party; township issues seldom align with political party ideologies and veteran township officials are at risk of losing elections as their communities shift political party alignments