If elections are worth having, they're worth having at a time when the general public is paying attention. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
If todayís primary election turnout is typical, fewer than 1 in 5 Michigan voters will come out to the polls, even though the balloting will likely be the final decision in a number of key races.
In Wayne County, where participation is usually even lower than for the state as a whole, voters will decide whether to replace County Executive Bob Ficano, and if so, with whom. Itís a key decision, and since Wayne County votes overwhelmingly Democratic, the primary winner can be expected to prevail in November against weak Republican opposition.
Across the state, nominees will be selected for four open congressional seats, and given the nature of redistricting, the primary vote will also likely be the final say in most of those elections.
The same holds true for the majority of state legislative races, in a year when every single House and Senate seat is up for grabs.
In addition, voters statewide are being asked to make a choice on personal property tax reform. Prop 1 will transform the way business taxes are assessed, and will have tremendous impact on local communities.
So, again, this is a vital election that merits far greater than the roughly 20 percent turnout that Michigan has averaged over the past several primaries.
One way to boost voter participation would be to move the date of the primary. Michigan is one of 16 states that holds an August primary. Most states hold their nominating votes in May or early June, while a few wait until September.
In neighboring Ohio, where the primary is in May, turnout runs usually at 30 percent or higher, though it has tapered some in recent years. Thatís not great, but it is better than in Michigan, where primary turnout always struggles to push above 20 percent.
Early August is still vacation season in Michigan; the kids havenít returned to school and those with summer homes are still away. There are too many other activities competing for the attention of voters.
At the very least, Michigan should consider legislation banning from the ballot tax issues in low-turnout elections. A number of Michigan communities and school districts are asking for more tax dollars today ó including a large increase for Wayne County school districts. Those pocketbook decisions should not be decided by such a small percentage of the voters.
Moving the primary to May or early June would lengthen the general election campaign season, but it would better engage voters in the process of selecting nominees.
An August primary works against the goal of increasing voter participation.