By David Fleet
Groveland Twp.-On Monday night, the township board of trustees voted 4-0 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. Trustee Dale Cason was absent with notice.
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.
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.
“Currently cities and villages are nonpartisan,” said Yaroch. “My bill would allow an option for township officials. I came from a nonpartisan city council where the planks of partisanship are not debated at the local level. Partisanship adds a piece of politics that may not be necessary—but this bill will allow a choice for the community.”
Yaroch served on the Richmond City Council for 17 years before his election to the State House in 2017.
“Nonpartisanship took out the divide in the city council,” he said. “Council members could focus on local issues and not feel that divide. Partisanship politics is more a part of Congress and State Legislators.”
On Monday night township officials decided to stay a partisan ballot.
“I think when we are elected in (office) we are rather nonpartisan,” said Patti Back, township clerk.. “However, I do think it (partisanship) helps the community resident to know where you stand which way you go, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican or middle of the road. Right now I’d prefer to stay partisan.”
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.
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