Local Leaders Discuss Proposal For Nonpartisan County Elections

Many of Livingston County’s commissioners are expressing opposition to a policy measure that would make nonpartisan county elections an option.

The measure is being weighed by the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) in its 2019/2020 General Government Platform. The specific language regarding nonpartisan county elections that was passed by the MAC Board of Directors on June 21st states that MAC supports, “Legislation that gives county boards of commissioners the option to make all county elected officials nonpartisan.” Don Parker, Chairman for the Livingston County Board of Commissioners, is also the Region 4 Director for MAC. He voted against the proposal; however it can be amended or voted down at the MAC Annual Conference in August.

Parker tells WHMI, “Whether someone was against Prop 3 or for Prop 3, the fact is it passed. And Prop 3 brought back straight party voting and the people of Michigan approved it… We already have a significant number of under voting county races, particularly on the down ballot…and so I think that removing county offices from the partisan section to the nonpartisan section will really increase under votes in election outcomes.”

In response to the proposal, Livingston County Commissioner Wes Nakagiri proposed a resolution that would show the county’s Board of Commissioners’ opposition to the measure. The resolution was considered by the county’s General Government and Health and Human Services Committee Monday night. During the meeting’s call the public, County Clerk Betsy Hundley reminded that candidates are already able to run for office without disclosing their affiliation by running as an independent candidate, suggesting that a change in election law is unnecessary.

The resolution also states that preventing disclosure of a candidate’s party affiliation “needlessly restricts and censors information” that voters rely on in selecting a candidate that shares their values. Nakagiri says, “Voters have traditionally used that information to help them make a decision on where their policy makers…lie on the issues…now obviously not all Republicans think the same way like all Democrats don’t think the same way, but there are some guiding principles I think that help people choose their elected leaders…I think withholding information from the voters is never a good thing.”

But Commissioner Gary Childs spoke in support of nonpartisan county elections. Childs feels candidates need to make the effort to express their views so that voters are not making their decisions solely based on party affiliation. Speaking to the roles of a county official he adds, “We’re trying to do the best for the budgeting purposes of taking care of the citizens of a county. It doesn’t matter if I’m an “R” or “D” or “I”…it’d be incumbent on me to teach people my ideas…I’m a Republican, but I represent the Democrats in my district, the Independents in my district, doesn’t matter.”

Childs was the only oppositional vote to Nakagiri’s resolution, which received support from Commissioners Bob Bezotte and William Green. Both Bezotte and Green did however state that they understood Childs’ position that county officials serve all their constituents, but still felt that knowing a candidate’s basic core values by way of party affiliation was important. The resolution will next be considered by the county’s Board of Commissioners at an upcoming meeting. (DK)

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