what to do about ypsi’s poor voter turnout

We’re having a meeting toward the end of the month to determine the fate of the Ypsi Votes website. I, and the rest of the committee that pulled-off the mayoral debate, think we want to do something with it between now and our next election cycle, but we aren’t sure what… Looking over the turnout numbers from yesterday’s election though, I think whatever we do, we should look at increased voter turnout as the metric by which we judge ourselves. While it’s great to get out there and facilitate dialogue in the community, and while that in itself is a noble goal, I think that what our primary objective should really be is to have Ypsilanti’s voting percentage be one of the highest in the state, if not the country. (I don’t know that it’s attainable, but it’s a good goal to have.)

Here are the basic numbers.

At the time of the 2000 census, the city of Ypsilanti had 22,362 inhabitants. (The Township, for those of you who are interested, had 49,182 inhabitants at the same time.)

According to the Michigan 2006 Precinct Report (found via my fellow Ypsi blogger Loose Tea), the city presently has 12,240 registered voters. (The Township has 37,603.)

And, of those, if I’m doing the math right, 2,352 voted in yesterday’s election.

I haven’t had much time to think about this, but my sense is that we could significantly improve upon these numbers. Granted, this wasn’t a presidential election year, and it was only a primary, but it still indicates more than a little apathy when it comes to how our city is governed. This was, after all, an election which, for all intents and purposes, decided the team who would be charged with the slashing of critical city services, the oversight of the Water Street development, etc… In short, if people didn’t care to come out and vote this time, chances are that there’s very little that will motivate them… Well, my hope is that the YpsiVotes team can think of creative ways not only to engage these neighbors in conversation, but to persuade them that their votes do in fact count… I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes.

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  1. Dale
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    Just a few ideas off the top of my head.

    One, I think it could be a resource for people to stay up on what goes on in Ypsi politics. Steve and Hillary do a great job getting city council stuff up on hamtramckstar (best I’ve ever seen for local stuff), which makes it accessible for those who are interested but couldn’t get to/see the meetings. Two, pairing that with a news/posting/discussion site like AU and others (but focused on government and politics) keeps a conversation going. Three, putting on town hall meetings, say, once a quarter could help keep the “gathering” momentum going. Hell, get Schreiber to put it on his calendar right from the outset. Maybe four, a regular monthly meetup, so it’s a face-to-face community discussion in addition to an online one. All of these would still probably only get to about 50% of the Ypsi population, but some combination might be a start. If you’ve got the people willing to work on it, that’s the important part.

  2. egpenet
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Voting is a civic DUTY … not a privilidge. Therefore, from now on …

    #1 – Any eligible voter who does not register, will be fined multiples of $250 for not voting, until the fine reaches $1000, at which time 20 days of public service are added. (Includes all civic and school elections.)

    #2 – Any registerd voter who does not vote in any election will be fined $1000 and/or spend 10 days in jail. A second offense will subject the party to 30 days working for her/his local unit of government at a needed tyask. A third offense will make her/him eligible for duty on the southern Lebanesee border.

  3. Hillary
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Dale: Thanks for the compliment, but I think someone could easily top my work by posting digital recordings of the meetings. You could cover more meetings in less time that way.

    Instead of having more meetings, why not go to City Council? There could be a monthly gathering before the regular council meeting where people could talk about the agenda and prepare their public comments. They could talk at a bar after the meeting too. We tend to learn the most important things in bars after.

    (Comparatively, Hamtramck had 22,976 people as of 2000, 9751 registered voters in 2006, and 1521 voters on the only city-wide issue, the Recreation Millage, which was highly politicized and failed by only 5 votes. The entire City Council and Mayor were elected last year by 2765 voters.)

  4. leighton
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Force people to do their civic duty?
    What is this The People’s Republic of Australia?
    I wish it were…

  5. Kate
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Talk with election officials, both here and at the county level, and you will find the voter rolls are full of people who no longer live here, have died or whatever. The voter rolls do not give an accurate percentage of the voters because of this. I know they had my son’s name listed at both my address and his other Ypsilanti address for years after he had moved to California. As it stands right now, you can’t know if you were successful or not because you don’t have accurate information.

    Second, support the group that is trying to get funding for an Ypsilanti daily newspaper. We need an accurate and timely information resource that covers local governments without negative bias. Help provide a forum that covers Ypsilanti and the surrounding area through more than one medium, because this group intends to provide both print news and an Internet site. Ypsilanti deserves its own newspaper. We don’t just want voters, we want informed voters.

  6. It's Skinner Again
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    In the old days, political parties used to encourage voter turnout with free “election ale.” Perhaps a local brewery could revive this grand tradition.

  7. Teaspout
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Even if the election rolls are filled with dead wood, only 30.3% of those from the City of Ypsilanti who voted in the Presidential Election, came out to vote for mayor.

  8. ol' e cross
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Personally, I

  9. Dr Cherry
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Voter turnout for the state was 18% for this primary.


    My theory is that economically challenged communities have higher turnouts because people aren’t off vacationing in August.

  10. egpenet
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Leighton: I wish this were Australia, or, better yet, New Zealand.

    At the very least, if you are registered and miss any one election, you get a happy note from the local clerk. If you miss a second, you get a nasty note. If you miss a third, your registration is invalidated and you must re-register after you take a three-hour class in Your Civic Duty.

    Even simpler, miss one election and you get a one-way ticket and a one year State Department posting as a poll worker in Arbil.

  11. Dr Cherry
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Forced civic participation doesn’t exactly reverberate with the idea of “freedom”.

  12. egpenet
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    True. We wish to teach and motivate to the proper exercise of freedom. Nonetheless, we have a DUTY to vote, as we have others, ie. to serve on a jury, serve in the armed forces, vote (both a right and a duty), and, generally, to serve in the community when and if possible.

    Freedom, ie. our Bill of Rights, detail our essential freedoms. Beyond these, we are free in society to pick and choose to participate or not … usually for some stated religious, political or other reason … a protest, as it were.

    My attitude is that if one chooses NOT to participate for any “unsound” reasoning … and chooses criminal activity, for instance … they simply lose their civic rights to enjoy what we all enjoy because we HAVE worked and paid and generally performed our civic duties.

    No absolute freedom. No free rides.

  13. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Maybe the response would be greater if we all got to dip our fingers in ink.

  14. Mr X
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    One of the local winners from Tuesday did say stuff about making government more transparent by using more technology. I think he mentioned podcasting all City Council meetings. I’m also pretty sure he has all kinds of ideas about improving the way information is shared.

    At the very least, I think we need to watch him closely and make sure he comes through on his promises. You know, it probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea to help him. He’s going to need it. He’s going to have a target on his back now.

  15. egpenet
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    All the winners have a target on their backs.

    How’bout a new logo for the pols? Take the Ypsi heart shape cookie and impose a red bullseye in the center with the YPSI in black over the bullseye?

    We’ll not only be watching, but we’ll be participating as we gear up our nerighborhood associations regarding the coming income tax issue, Water Street, city budget inssues and more.

    How’bout green ink?

  16. mark
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    I, of course, agree that votes, in and of themselves, without some prior education as to the issues involved, probably aren

  17. mark
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what percentage of people who voted were active members of neighborhood associations. I think that would be an interesting statistic. I also wonder how many of our registered voters are students.

  18. Anonymous
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Someone wrote:

  19. mark
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Steve, it’s good to have you back here on the site again, and I look forward to working with you to bring business to Ypsi and transparency to local government… And congratulations on a well run campaign.

  20. egpenet
    Posted August 10, 2006 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Hello, Steve. Yes … a good campaign. Still a lot of work ahead. See’ya soon.

    You also may hjave noticed that I was one of three cable commissioners several years back. We had a plan and a $25,000 budget to start a single channel, although we’re entitled to three.

    An Ypsi blog featuring citizen comments and pod cast links would be fantastic. The city could swing that right from their web site with one full-timer and a modest budget. Most public meetings are taped for the record, so audio is not unfamiliar to council or commission members.

  21. ol' e cross
    Posted August 11, 2006 at 7:36 am | Permalink


    What happened to that cable plan?

  22. ol' e cross
    Posted August 11, 2006 at 7:45 am | Permalink


    Regarding podcasting, would the city still be required to have a written transcript of the meeting to meet gov regs about equal access (for those who lack ipods/internet)?

  23. egpenet
    Posted August 11, 2006 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    OEC: MMore of an outline and a direction that needed to be fleshed out and financed.

    We were focused on local regulation and rates, and wanted to seek out a second supplier or different services to run over the same wires.

    This was before broadband, but we were already pushing for it and working out safety and security issues which could be delivered by neighborhood nodes.

    We were exploring customer servkice issues (this was prior to Comcast).

    We held two hearings (maybe one) with the cable companyu.

    We were looking for studio and production space in town. The RAC was being purchased at that point and was considered.

    We had three chasnnels promised, but we were aware that council would object to video. We wanted to bring videro into the courts, as well.

    We were more interested, actually, in providing do-it-yourself production training and post-production services for citizens … especially kids, to get them involved in civics, music videos, home videos, things about town, school events.

    We had a plan of “lists” for agenda items: what was our jurisdiction, subject to council’s desires, creativity programming, production/post-production?

    Anmdd we wweree beginning to line up visits to other local cable councils for input and orientation.

    That’s about it.

  24. Rodney
    Posted August 11, 2006 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    A change in the City Charter to non-partisan elections for City Council and Mayor would help voter turnout. How, you ask? By reducing the need for an August primary when few are paying any attention to politics.

    Other changes that could engage the voting public include changing city council seats to two year terms, and requiring the entire council to be up for election at the same time. In this way, we might attract a better pool of challengers, and the incumbant councilmembers would have fewer advantages. Right now, the deck is stacked so high against challengers that the only way to effect change is to convince a sitting councilmember not to run!

    The City Charter will be up for renewal soon (2007 or 2008 I think). There will be a Charter Commission appointed to look at recommended changes.

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