Decision 2020: Proposal 1 would change GR city commission elections from odd years to even

Oct 13, 2020

Credit City of Grand Rapids

This November, voters in Grand Rapids will consider moving the elections of its city commissioners from odd years to even, as one group, in favor of the idea charges, that the current system is meant to suppress black voters.

Proposal 1 on the November ballot in Grand Rapids would move the election cycle to correspond with the Presidential election, or the midterm-elections, which fall on even year cycles.

The group behind the proposal is an organization known as Empower the Citizens. They are the same group that successfully mandated term-limits on city commissioners back in 2014, and they argue that city commission elections on odd years is a form of voter suppression, and the scheme was hatched over a century ago.

Bonnie Burke is the organization’s co-founder:

“About a hundred years ago, all over the country, people in power, mainly the white population, didn’t want input from immigrants or from minorities, they wanted to keep control over how the elections would go based on who would vote," Burke said. "So that was tactic used to actually promote them easily winning elections.”

The idea is that more people would vote for city commission races if they were already at the polls to vote for the Presidential race. However, not everyone agrees the idea is a good one, at least not for now.

Another group, called “Keep GR Local” argues that switching to even years would politicize the city commission, where seats, including the mayor’s is non-partisan.

Former City Commissioner Ruth Kelly is one of the group’s leaders.

“We have become uber partisan in the United States, terribly partisan,” Kelly said. “And I know that even in non-partisan situations as an elected, you can get pressured from one party or another. And there will be a temptation for the parties to want to advance candidates, use the city commission as a stepping stone and then move onto the state right away. When you really need people to stay focused on the city, to get those policy objectives taken care of.”

Kelly said she ultimately thinks that moving to an even election year cycle could work in the future, but into today’s political climate, not enough discussion around the issue has been had yet.

Voters will decide on November 3rd.