As the election is drawing near, we recently asked our readers to tell us in an anonymous online survey how they are thinking about the candidates and issues on the November 7 East Lansing ballot. Based on the responses, it looks like most people have already decided how their votes will be cast, and some have already voted via absentee ballot. But there are a few outlying “undecided” voters as well.
The City Council race: In general, readers responding to our survey were not enthusiastic about their choices for City Council. In the comments, it seemed that in many cases votes were being cast against one candidate rather than in favor of another.
There are two incumbents running for reelection: Ruth Beier, currently serving as Mayor Pro Tem, and Susan Woods. The third candidate is MSU student Aaron Stephens, who has been engaging in an active door-to-door campaign with many mailings.
Here’s why our readers said they are voting for the candidates they’ve chosen.
Ruth Beier is a labor economist and her financial expertise came up again and again in the pro-Beier comments. She is seen by her supporters as a mature voice of reason on the Council, and was touted by several as the Councilmember who demands accountability from developers. In a Candidate profile that ELi published last month, Beier said that she found City Council work “unpleasant” and that she didn’t “enjoy” it. These comments were part of a larger quote about how her time on the City Council is not part of a higher political ambition, but some “no” voters on Beier didn’t appreciate that sentiment. The only other reason our survey respondents cited for a vote against Beier was because her political views are too far to the left. One reader responded, “Her priorities do not align with mine and my family’s.”
Susan Woods’ chief employment is as Director of the East Lansing Film Festival, which has gotten her into some difficulty in the past when the line between City Council work and Film Festival work has blurred. Woods’ supporters are enthusiastic about her promotion of the arts and festivals within the City of East Lansing. “Woods deserves more credit than she gets,” wrote one supporter. “She’s the only one on council representing the arts in any serious way.” Another group of Woods supporters have in common the aim of voting for the incumbents (Beier and Woods) as a unit, essentially voting against Aaron Stephens and in favor of the current mix of Council Members. “Sometimes change is necessary and sometimes it’s detrimental,” said one. Critics of Woods are concerned about what they see as her willingness to take developers at their word without digging deeper, her lack of disclosure surrounding possible conflicts of interests, and issues with her campaign following the law.
Aaron Stephens is the newcomer, and our survey respondents were either very enthusiastic or extremely skeptical of Stephens, frequently for the same reason: his youth. Stephens’ relatively young age and enthusiasm were seen by some as a plus—a way to possibly repair the tense relationship between MSU and the City of East Lansing—and by others as a minus, with the candidate being seen as inexperienced and untested. Pro-Stephens voters seek “fresh blood,” and “passion.” More than one no-voter on Stephens said he appears to be using this position as a stepping stone for higher political office. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing according to one respondent, who said they were supporting Stephens “because when he becomes president of the United States one day, we can say he made his first positive impact in East Lansing.” Contrast that with the voter who said he appears to like knocking on doors more than going to class.
The abstainers: And there were several voters who plan to abstain altogether from voting for City Council candidates, saying that there is no acceptable candidate on the ballot. Some respondents said they are holding out hope for a viable write-in candidate (it’s too late for that according to Michigan campaign law) and many said they plan to vote for only one candidate, even though they know they can vote for two. One respondent said that they’re planning to write in their Halloween pumpkin for City Council.
The twin tax proposals: In addition to the City Council race, of course, there is the thorny problem of the twin proposals of the East Lansing Income tax and property tax reduction. These are listed under two separate proposals, with the implementation of the property tax reduction being dependent on a “yes” majority for the City income tax.
Very few of the readers who answered our survey are passionately in favor of the income tax, but many say that they plan to vote for it anyway. “I see no other way the city can meet its pension obligations,” said one. “I don’t take public safety and quality of life for granted,” answered another.
“No” voters on the income tax indicated that they did not have confidence in the city to spend the new income responsibly, and urged “creative solutions” to bridge the budget gap. The negative effect an income tax might have on East Lansing’s business climate was also a consideration for some. “I want people to live here and move their business here. I feel that an income tax will move people away,” answered one decided voter, and another indicated that since the Greater Lansing Chamber of Commerce was against it, that they were too.
A vote for the tax does not necessarily dictate a vote for the property tax reduction, or vice versa. Although most “yes” on Income Tax voters say they plan to vote “yes” on the property tax reduction, there were several who saw this as irresponsible public policy, saying that limiting the property tax rate was too risky when the city is still in debt. “If the income tax is passed it should go to better city infrastructure, not tax breaks for property owners,” commented a voter who plans to vote for the income tax but against the property tax reduction. And there were a few “no” voters on the income tax who said they planned to vote “yes” on the property tax reduction “in case the income tax passes.”
The City Clerk’s office will have special hours this Saturday to accommodate voters who need to vote absentee. Read more here.
If you want to know where you go to vote and what your ballot will look like, just go to Michigan.gov/vote
If you want to read ELi’s coverage of the City Council race, including our profiles of the three candidates, coverage on their campaign financing, and more, check out our dedicated voter guide.
And if you want to learn all about the tax proposals on the ballot, check out our dedicated tax proposals guide.