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Cities should consider even year elections, Ottawa Clerk says amid low turnout

He expects around one in five people to vote in Tuesday's primary.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — To ensure higher voter turnout, municipalities should consider scheduling their races to line up with federal elections, the Ottawa County Clerk said Tuesday. 

Many communities don't want to be in the fray of a larger election cycle where local candidates can get lost in presidential politics, but the statistics are well-documented, said Justin Roebuck, who has served as county clerk since June 2014.

"Knowing that voters that are going to show up at certain times and at certain cycles, I think that communities should be looking at ways to reach more voters and impact more voters to get a broader selection of the process," Roebuck said. 

In each of the three election cycles—May, August and November—turnout is significantly lower in odd years, he said. 

Only 17 percent of voters made it to the polls in Grand Haven's 2017 mayoral primary, while 11 percent of Holland voters cast ballots for the 3rd ward council member. 

Roebuck estimated around 20 percent of voters would show up for Tuesday's mayoral primary in Grand Haven between incumbent Geri McCaleb and City Council Members Josh Brugger and Robert Monetza. 

"I'm not expecting any more than an average turnout," he said. 

The Holland City Council at-large member race features three candidates: incumbent Wayne Klomparens and challengers Vicki-Lynn Holmes and Lyn Raymond. Voter turnout may dip below 10 percent, said poll worker Susan Peerbolt. 

"It's not a busy election," Peerbolt said. "It's a primary...so it might not be as important to voters to have their say. I'm expecting a lot more people in November." 

With the passage of Proposal 3 last November, people can register to vote the day of the election and vote absentee with no reason. That will likely increase turnout in major elections, but not put a major dent in off years, Roebuck said. 

"People are not necessarily thinking about, in an off-year cycle, when they need to go and vote," he said. "Our job and responsibility is to provide access and make sure voters have the right information." 

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