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Change to East Lansing election years will not go to voters following review from Gov. Whitmer

Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaking from a desk with an ASL interpreter in the background
Michigan Executive Office of the Governor
A legal conflict between East Lansing’s City Charter and the Attorney General’s review of state law left the proposal to move council elections in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s hands.

Updated August 15, 2023 at 1:21 p.m. ET

A proposal that would move East Lansing City Council elections from odd to even-numbered years will not go on the November ballot.

East Lansing’s City Council had passed a resolution to give voters the chance this November to amend the city charter and shift when council elections happen. If implemented, the next city council elections after this year would have occurred in 2026 instead of 2025.

The change would have aligned local elections with state and federal races that draw more voters to the polls. Officials said the shift would lead to higher turnout from Michigan State University students.

In order for the measure to appear on the November ballot, it needed approval from the Governor's office by Tuesday evening to comply with state election requirements.

The city had previously sent the ballot language to the Attorney General's office for an evaluation. But the office rejected the proposal and said state law does not require city charter changes to move local election years, making the ballot question unnecessary.

The Attorney General's office indicated East Lansing's City Council could make the change with a local resolution. But City Attorney Anthony Chubb said conflicting state and local laws require the change to be made with a city charter amendment.

The city sent the proposal to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for final review. A letter from Whitmer sent Tuesday morning stated she would not approve the amendment to appear on the ballot this fall, citing the Attorney General's legal reasoning.

While the council can override opinions from the governor and attorney general with a supermajority vote, the group does not have enough time to schedule a special meeting to make the vote while complying with the Tuesday 5 p.m. state deadline.

Voters in East Lansing will still weigh in on three other election-related ballot proposals in November. Those include expanding the council from five to seven members, shifting the date councilmembers are sworn in and taking steps toward supporting ranked choice voting for local elections.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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