Largely uncontested elections produce light voter turnout

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 18, 2013

GROSSE POINTES — Facing ballots that, in many cases, consisted solely of a few local incumbents running unopposed for re-election, the majority of Pointe voters apparently decided to sit out this election.

This was most evident in Grosse Pointe City, where only 9.1 percent of the City’s 4,560 registered voters cast ballots Nov. 5. The big story in the City might be that the number of absentee ballots was greater than those cast in person, with 232 ballots cast absentee and only 183 cast on Election Day.

City Mayor Dale Scrace drew the greatest total number of votes, with 360, as he won another two-year term in office. City Council members earning new four-year terms were incumbents Christopher Boettcher with 344 votes, Chris Walsh with 353 votes and Jean MacDonald Weipert with 342 votes.

Turnout was only slightly higher in Grosse Pointe Park, where 12.07 percent of the city’s 9,860 registered voters weighed in on the local races this year. Mayor Palmer Heenan, running unopposed for another two-year term during his 30th year at the city’s helm, emerged with 932 votes. Park Municipal Court Judge Carl Jarboe, another veteran official, received 1,000 votes in his uncontested re-election bid, giving him a new four-year term. The uncontested City Council race resulted in the re-election of Laurie Arora with 958 votes, Daniel Grano with 796 votes and James Robson with 806 votes, giving all three incumbents new four-year terms.

Although Grosse Pointe Shores residents faced a contested municipal court judge race, the City Council contest was fairly uneventful, with only incumbents running for re-election. Alexander Ajlouni received 334 votes, Robert Barrette Jr. received 370 votes and Bruce Bisballe received 376 votes, returning all three to new four-year council terms. It was a far cry from the last council contest in 2011, which ushered in a new mayor and an almost entirely new council. Turnout was far different this year, as well. About 58 percent of registered voters took part in the 2011 election, compared to 21 percent of the city’s 2,395 registered voters this year.

Barrette said he planned to “continue my work as liaison to the Department of Public Works and continue the projects I started,” as well as continue to serve as the council liaison to the nonprofit Grosse Pointe Shores Improvement Foundation.

Like the City, the majority of Shores voters cast their ballots before Election Day. Shores Election Administrator Tom Krolczyk said almost 300 of the 500 total ballots cast were absentee.

“That’s a huge trend,” he said of the growing increase in voters casting absentee ballots.

As to the turnout itself, while it wasn’t nearly as impressive as the prior council race, Krolczyk said it also “wasn’t bad,” especially for largely uncontested races.

With a contested council and judicial race, turnout was highest in Grosse Pointe Farms, where City Manager/City Clerk Shane Reeside said 22.3 percent of the city’s voters cast ballots. More than a third of those ballots — 619 — were absentee, he said.

“That’s been a trend in the last few years,” Reeside said.

Over the last decade, he said the number of absentee ballots cast has been steadily increasing.

The Farms also had one uncontested election on the ballot: the mayoral election. Incumbent Mayor James Farquhar will be in office for another two years, having earned 1,532 votes. Farquhar was also unopposed when he last ran for mayor in 2011.

For many Farms voters, the number of candidates on the ballot wasn’t as significant as taking part in the electoral process.

“I think you just have to take advantage of the privilege of (voting) because it’s there, regardless of the issues, regardless of who’s running, (and) even if it doesn’t seem important,” said Farms voter the Rev. Ian Leslie. “It’s a wonderful privilege. It’s not to be taken lightly.”

Another Farms voter, Robert Reynolds, echoed that sentiment.

“I feel it’s my civic duty,” he said of voting. “We all need to do that.”

Farms voter Linda Wagner said she wanted to make sure she voted in the municipal court judicial race, as well as the council race.

“I feel it’s my duty,” she said. “It’s my responsibility.”

A handful of votes can be the difference between winning and losing a seat at the city level, making every vote count.

“This is close to home,” said Farms resident William Dailey, a supporter of incumbent Farms/ Shores Municipal Court Judge Matthew Rumora. “It’s important stuff.”

In Grosse Pointe Woods, where voter turnout was 20.68 percent, incumbents regained their seats in the mayoral and City Council races.

Mayor Robert Novitke ran unopposed for his seat, but there was one challenger and three incumbents running for the remaining three City Council seats.

Council members Vicki Granger, Todd McConaghy and Kevin Ketels were the three highest vote-getters for the three full-term seats. They earned 2,066, 2,054 and 2,005 votes, respectively.

Challenger Robert Sheehy received 1,120 votes, according to city information.

Staff writer April Lehmbeck contributed to this report.