What Does the Data Tell Us About the Income Tax Vote?

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Friday, August 10, 2018, 7:56 am
Chris Root

Results are in from the vote on the East Lansing income tax ballot question on August 7, so we can now analyze where the votes came from to pass that East Lansing City Charter Amendment. Over all, 61% of people voting on the income tax voted “yes,” with 39% voting “no” – a decisive vote in favor, as we reported on election night.


Just to recap:

The proposal that passed limited the tax to 12 years. The implementation of the tax will trigger a property tax reduction of about 10% that was approved by voters in November 2017. Both the tax and the property tax reduction will begin in January 2019.

The City is expecting net new revenues of about $5 million annually. The Charter Amendment that was approved on Tuesday specifies that, of the new net revenues, 60% must be used for supplemental payments to unfunded liabilities of employee pension funds, 20% for public safety, and 20% for water, sewer, roads, parks and recreation or other infrastructure.


Here are some major take-aways from the data:

  • The income tax passed with 61% “yes” votes and 39% “no” votes, marking a large shift from last November’s majority “no” vote. Last November saw 47% “yes” votes and 53% “no” votes on the different version of an income tax proposal, one that had no time limit or designated purposes and was not a Charter Amendment.
  • On August 7, there were 4,526 total “yes” votes and 2,894 total “no” votes on the income tax. This was 1,648 more “yes” votes and 365 fewer “no” votes than last November.
  • In the August election, 1,283 more people voted on the income tax ballot question than in the November election. The August vote reflects the choices of 21% more of the city’s electorate than the vote in 2017.
  • Only two of East Lansing’s 17 precincts had a majority “no” vote on the income tax in August. Those were Hawk Nest and Eagle Eye (Precinct 17) and Whitehills (Precinct 7). Even these precincts showed an increase in support for an income tax. “Yes” votes in Precinct 17 increased from 115 votes (33%) last year to 236 (48%) in August, and “yes” votes in Precinct 7 were up from 262 votes (43%) last year to 398 votes (49%).


A few things to keep in mind before we dig deeper:

Before we dig deeper into the data, a caution. As explained above, there were differences in substance between the two ballot questions, even though both were versions of a new 1% income tax on residents, with a 0.5% tax on non-resident income in East Lansing. (You can find the 2018 ballot question here and the 2017 question here.) So, the 2018 and 2017 vote counts reflect opinions on two different policy options.

Also, it is impossible to count how many people changed their minds between the two elections from opposing some form of an income tax to supporting it. This may seem obvious, but nevertheless worth bearing in mind.

The electorate is not the same from one election to the next because some people move, newly register to vote, choose to vote or not, die, and so on. What we do know is that many more people voted in the August election than in the election in November; in August, 7,816 people voted in East Lansing, compared to 6,171 in 2017.


A widespread shift towards “yes”:

ELi reported last year on precinct-level data on the previous income tax ballot question. In that election, in only four off-campus precincts was there majority support for the income tax proposal. These were:

Bailey, south of Burcham Drive (Precinct 9) - 259 “yes” votes (57%) in 2017

Red Cedar/Spartan Village (Precinct 16) - 108 “yes” votes (55%) in 2017

Bailey/Avondale (Precinct 10) - 109 “yes” votes (53%) in 2017

Southeast Marble and Walnut Heights (Precinct 11) - 388 votes (50%) in 2017

This August, most precincts were significantly more positive on the ballot question than last year, leading to the decisive 61% approval of the ballot question overall. (The 58% approval reported by ELi on election night was based on the vote tallies at polling locations; absentee ballot counts were added to the tally only early on Wednesday morning, which increased the percentage of the “yes” vote.)

As mentioned above, this time around, 15 of the 17 East Lansing precincts had more “yes” than “no” votes. The table below of votes by precinct (roughly identifying which neighborhoods the precincts contain) shows both the vote counts and percentages of “yes” and “no” votes.

The five precincts at the end of the above table are on the MSU campus, where there was low turnout. But despite it being summer, there were more votes (185) on the income tax in these precincts than there were last November (177).

In both elections, a majority of on-campus voters supported than opposed the new tax (69% “yes” votes in August and 51% “yes” votes last November). MSU students also live in many East Lansing neighborhoods, and some people who live on campus are not students, so it is impossible to analyze student votes separately from those of other voters.


How voting on the Ingham County jail millage compared to voting on the income tax:

The city income tax was not the only new-tax proposal on the ballot for most East Lansing residents. East Lansing voters who live in Ingham County also voted in favor of a 20-year millage for Ingham County for a new jail and court complex and increased services for people in the judicial system.

This county millage was approved 55% county-wide (31,799 “yes” votes to “26,477 “no” votes). In East Lansing, 61% of voters supported it, and precinct-level support for the income tax and jail millage were roughly similar.

Whitehills (Precinct 7) was the only East Lansing precinct where fewer than 50% of voters supported the county millage. (Hawk Nest/Precinct 17, the other East Lansing precinct with less-than-50% support for the income tax, is in Clinton County, so those voters did not vote on this millage.)


How many skipped voting on the income tax?

Comparing the votes on the East Lansing income tax and the Ingham County millage also gives some perspective on the number of people who cast ballots but did not vote on the income tax. In the 16 East Lansing precincts within Ingham County, 372 people cast ballots but did not vote on the income tax, whereas 487 voters did not vote on the county jail millage.

A much smaller number of people – 34 voters – cast ballots in November 2017 but did not vote on the income tax. That election was more locally-focused, and, as noted above, the total number of voters who participated was smaller.

Fewer voters skipped the income tax question than the jail millage question; this may have been partly because there was much more education and campaigning in the city about the income tax.

It is reasonable to guess that some significant portion of voters did not vote on both the ballot questions, although this information is not available. The two ballot questions were together on the back of the ballot, and some people may have missed them, despite many poll workers reminding voters to vote both sides of the ballot.


Voter turnout:

East Lansing’s voter turnout on August 7, 2018, was 32% of registered voters. Another news outlet reported this figure as 35%, but that was based on inaccurate registered voter numbers on the Ingham County elections website that were corrected the day after the election.

East Lansing’s high turn-out for the August vote was part of a record-setting turnout in an August primary election for the entire state. According to the Michigan Secretary of State, nearly 2.2 million people voted in this election, about a 30% turnout of registered voters. This turnout broke a record set in the August 2002 primary of 1.7 million voters (about a 23% turnout). That was also a year with an open seat for Governor, in which Jennifer Granholm was chosen by Democrats as their candidate and then went on to be elected Governor in the general election.


A note on sourcing:

Precinct-level election results can be downloaded from the website of the Ingham County Clerk. This article is based on the Unofficial Precinct Results posted at 6:45 p.m. on August 8. The East Lansing income tax ballot question is on pages 556-557 of this document. (“Total votes” is the number of votes on the income tax ballot question; “Times cast” is the number of ballots that were cast, i.e., the number of voters.) It could take up to two weeks for the Board of Canvassers to certify final results.

People who are interested in understanding the overlap between voting precincts and neighborhoods can see a map of precincts here and map of neighborhood associations here.


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