Ypsilanti Charter Commission to propose non-partisan elections
Ypsilanti voters will be asked to consider approving non-partisan elections.
The Ypsilanti Charter Commission recently voted 6-2 to include proposing changing elections from partisan to non-partisan as part of a larger charter revision.
The commission has been meeting for nearly a year and only made what commissioners characterize as “housekeeping changes” until this point. All the changes will be rolled into one revision which voters will be asked to approve or reject in what officials expect will be the Nov. 2012 election.
The charter commission has one more public meeting on Dec. 15 before the language is submitted to the State's Attorney General’s office for approval. City Clerk Frances McMullan said she expects that process to take up to four months.
In the November 2010 elections, Ypsilanti residents voted 2,083 to 1,985 to establish a charter commission for a general rewrite of the city's charter. The charter was rewriten in 1994, and, per the charter, the question of whether it should be revised must be put in front of voters every 16 years.
The commission is made up of four republicans and four democrats, and the city is largely democratic. The charter commission's democrats are Cheryl Farmer, John Gawlas, James Hawkins, Robert Doyle and William Fennel. Republicans Karen Quinlan-Valvo, James Fink, Peter Fletcher and Kim Porter-Hoppe serve.
Several commissioners said at the time of the November 2010 election that they didn’t feel there needed to be any major changes to the charter, though anyone around the issue agrees that changing to non-partisan elections is a major proposal.
Former Mayor Farmer, who helped craft the 1994 charter, and Gwalas were the lone votes against the proposed change. Fennel was not present. Hawkins, Quinlan-Vlavo, Fink, Doyle, Fletcher and Porter-Hoppe voted for the change.
Charter Commission chair Porter-Hoppe said Ypsilanti is one of three cities - including Ionia and Ann Arbor - in the state that still have partisan elections.
She said that the charter commission election was non-partisan and she believes the Republicans elected to the board likely wouldn’t have been if it were partisan elections.
“Often, when there’s just one party in charge or in control of winning elections, it’s impossible for people on other side of the aisle to win,” she said.
She said she previously served on elected, non-partisan boards and they functioned well.
“It’s up to the informed voter to find out about the candidates and make an informed decision,” she said.
Farmer said she voted against the proposal because there didn’t appear to be any issues with how elections are currently run.
“It seemed to me like the system was working,” she said. “I didn’t think we needed to make any big changes. I thought tweaks were probably all we needed to do.”
But Farmer added that non-partisan elections seem to be working well around the state, so she isn’t entirely opposed to the idea.
Some officials have said they fear proposing changing to non-partisan elections will be a divisive issue and ultimately cause the charter revision to fail, even though some other good minor changes have been proposed.
What are those?
City Council was united against revisiting the charter in 2010, and Council Member Mike Bodary said he believes the commission is risking losing their good changes.
“This could be a polarizing item and could put the whole thing in jeopardy,” he said. “I would encourage the charter commission not to put something so controversial in there because it weakens the whole proposal.”
He said he suspects some people feel like they’re left out of local politics and because they are affiliated with the Republican Party and “are looking to slide in under the radar.”
“I think if you want to be honest and want people to know what you think about things, then you should be able to say ‘I’m a republican, I’m a democrat, I’m an independent,’” he said.
Mayor Paul Schreiber said the bottom line is that partisan elections communicate where candidates stand on issues.
“I think this is a big issue, and I think everything else (proposed by the commission) pales in comparison,” Schreiber said. “We were starting with a pretty good charter, so I’m not in favor of the proposed charter.
“It’s hard enough to get message to voters and, at the very least, they should know from a global standpoint where people stand and whether candidates are republicans or democrats.”