Pressure from citizen groups behind GR City Commission's new task force

Jul 12, 2019

After pressure from two, separate, citizen led activist groups, the Grand Rapids City Commission on Thursday announced a new Task Force tcharged with exploring two ideas: one would move the commission’s election cycle from odd years to even, the other would create five new wards, while increasing the number of commissioners from six to eight.  

The citizen led group, "Empower the Citizens," has been calling on the commission to change its election cycle from odd years to even, arguing that voter turnout, specifically for minority groups, is dramatically higher on even years, when the Presidential and Midterm elections are held. 

Bonnie Burke is the co-founder of Empower the Citizens. She says the election of city officials during odd years was an intentional move to suppress the minority vote, and the plan was hatched over a century ago.

“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. So, the voter suppression was very real and it has continued to work. And that is why so many cities are changing to even years because of low voter turnout.”

Meanwhile another citizen-led group called the "Grand Rapids Democracy Initiative" is calling on the city commission to move to an eight city ward system, with one commissioner assigned to each ward. The group argues that the move would be a better representation of communities in the city. Currently, there are three wards in Grand Rapids with 2 commissioners elected to each.

According to city officials, the Task Force will include members of both citizen lead-initiatives, and the group will explore both ideas.