Because it’s expensive and also because special elections tend to have even lower than normal voter turnout, the county clerk is asking state lawmakers representing Oakland County communities to change election law as it pertains to county commissioners.
Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds Bill Bullard Jr. is asking the state to modify the way it allows communities to replace county commissioners. Particularly, he wants to see a change in the way voters replace commissioners who leave their posts in odd-numbered years.
In an even-numbered year, a vacant commission seat is filled by appointment and the appointee serves the rest of the position’s unexpired term.
“In an odd-numbered year, the post must be filled within 30 days and then a special election has to be held,” Bullard said.
The problems, he said, are costs and fairness.
Joe Rozell, the county’s director of elections, said an election is an expensive affair.
“We estimate that a primary election costs about $44,000 between the county and the communities taking part,” he said.
In the case of Bullard’s own county commissioner seat, the one left vacant when he took the county clerk/register of deeds job after former clerk/register of deeds Ruth Johnson left the county to serve in Lansing as Michigan’s secretary of state, the communities making up the Board of Commissioners’ 2nd District are going to have to pay for that primary election later this year.
“The county will end up paying about $8,000 to print the ballots and do the certification,” Rozell said. “The local communities will have to pay for workers, postage and overtime.”
In this particular case, Highland Township will end up spending about $12,000, Holly Township will spend $7,200, Rose Township will spend $6,000, and Springfield Township will spend $10,000 to put on a May primary election to fill Bullard’s seat.
And that’s just for the primary election. The primary election is held because county commission seats are partisan seats; a general election will have to be held in August. The grand total for holding a special election for a county commissioner is almost $90,000.
Given the rough times all Oakland County communities find themselves in lately, the expense is a concern for Bullard. The other concern, he said, is fairness.
“There’s such a small turnout for special elections,” he said. “I think that democracy is better served by the county commission choosing a replacement. You can argue that it’s not exactly the will of the people (when that happens), but I think that 24 commissioners making that choice is better than the 8 or 9 percent of voters who turn out for those elections. Why have the local governments pay that much money for that low a turnout?”