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Low Turnout Means Bonds Pass for…

Low Turnout Means Bonds Pass for Northville, Oak Park, and W. Bloomfield Schools

(Kurt Metzger, May 10. 2021)

A number of school districts in the tri-county area used the May 4 election date option as their opportunity to go to the voters with a School Bond proposal.

This serves as almost a guarantee of passage as turnouts tend to be low and school districts make a point of turning out their rapid supporters.  This is also true of primaries, where turnout is low and more radical candidates, on both sides of gerrymandered districts, have a good chance to win the day, and go on to win the general.

I want to look at the 3 school bond elections that took place in Oakland County:

~Operating Millage Renewal Proposal – Northville Public Schools

~Bonding Proposal – School District of the City of Oak Park

~Operating Millage Proposal – West Bloomfield School District

The top line result for all three was a resounding approval – Northville (81.2%); Oak Park (79.6%); and West Bloomfield (74.8%).  While each of the school districts attained their desired result, this overwhelming support reflects a very small share of the registered voters in each district.

Northville had the highest turnout of 20.1 percent.  This translates to a mere 16.3 percent of all registered voters determining the Yes outcome.

West Bloomfield voters turned out at a rate of 15.5 percent, with just 11.6 percent of registered voters saying Yes.

Oak Park School District voters had the lowest turnout – just 11.7 percent of all registered voters.  Among voters in the 8 precincts who went to the polls (or used the absentee option), turnout ranged from a low of 6.4 percent to a high of only 13.5 percent.  Absentee ballots accounted for 89 percent of the total votes.

This was the message that resonated with a mere 9.3 percent of the electorate.

“The Oak Park School District prides itself on cultivating visionary leaders and compassionate citizens engaged in the global community. In alignment with our vision, we are asking community members to consider a $54.45 million bond to address the CRITICAL NEEDS of our aging facilities at NO CHANGE TO THE CURRENT TAX RATE. This means that the 5.98 mills the district is currently levying is not expected to change.

The proposed funding would allow the district to make critical replacements and upgrades to infrastructure, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and technology equipment. With favorable tax rates and new building improvements required in light of the pandemic, we are asking community members to consider this bond, up for election on May 4, 2021!”

While I realize a “Yes” vote was not going to affect bottom line taxes, it is so disappointing to see such a small share of voters willing to spend a few minutes – absentee or in person – to show their support for their schools.

In addition to the three school bonds in Oakland County, the Village of Franklin passed a charter change that allows the municipality to add sidewalks in the downtown area.  Worded “Shall Chapter XI, Section 5 of the Village of Franklin Charter be amended to provide that the Council shall not have the power to construct any new sidewalks in residential areas, except that construction of new sidewalks shall be allowed along Franklin Road and Thirteen Mile Road?,” this proposal passed with 628 voting yes and 489 voting no.

The chart below takes the results of the May Election for Oak Park Schools and compares the voter turnout by Precinct (several sets of precincts in the City of Oak Park were paired together for May) with those from last year’s November General Election.  This election and those in years past show that voters simply do not turnout as well for special elections, begging the question of whether special elections are really serving the needs of democracy.


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