City, county voters reject tax increase questions

Trump and Biden claim Michigan

"Vote here" sign points at the Ganiard Elementry School where Mount Pleasant residents vote in Michigan primaries on Feb. 27, 2024.

Isabella County voters had a strong message for their government officials Tuesday: Operate within the budget you already have. With all precincts counted, voters rejected, 10,286 to 3,668, a ballot proposal that county officials hoped would add nearly $6.15 million to coffers next year.

In the city of Mount Pleasant, a proposed Community Aquatic Center bond issue also failed, with 3,195 voters for and 4,191 against, unofficial numbers show.

Additionally, preliminary results in Isabella County show party frontrunners Joseph Biden and Donald J. Trump earned more delegates on their roads to the Democratic and Republican, respectively, presidential nominations. Biden earned 3,407 votes in Isabella County, while Trump claimed the county’s Republican vote with 1,904 ballots as of deadline, unofficial tallies show. 

By noon Wednesday, and with 99 percent of precincts counted, preliminary Michigan results showed Republican Trump besting former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Hailey, 756,851-294,885, the Associated Press reported. Biden easily defeated Democratic challengers Marianne Williamson and Dean Phillips by claiming 81.1% of the partisan vote (618,426 ballots), compared to 3% (22,706 ballots) and 2.7% (20,465), respectively. "Uncommitted" claimed the second place in the Democratic primary, earning 13.3% of -- or 101,100 -- party voters' ballots.

What was this election about?

In addition to casting ballots for their partisan picks for president, Mount Pleasant residents were asked whether they would support a new tax to pay for a new aquatic center, and all Isabella County citizens got the chance to sound off on a proposed tax increase for general operations. 

Unlike the national general election, which will take place in November, in primaries voters were given the option of pulling a Republican ballot, a Democratic ballot or a ballot with no presidential candidates and just the mileage rates.

At issue for Mount Pleasant was whether voters would approve a 1.18-mill tax levy to repay a $25 million bond issue over the course of 25 years. The levy, according to ballot language, would be used to build a municipal aquatic center to replace the Rose Pool, which closed in 2016. 

All Isabella County voters, including residents of Mount Pleasant, meanwhile, were asked to support a six year, 2.5-mill levy. If approved, the millage was expected to add about $6.15 million to county coffers in its first year alone.

A mill is $1 of tax per $1,000 worth of taxable value of a property. For the owner of a $100,000 home, the aquatic center would add $118 per year to a municipal tax rate, while the county proposal would add $250 per year. 

This year marked the first that Michigan voters had the chance to cast early ballots, thanks to a 2022 proposal that, among other things, extended in-person voting to nine days prior to Election Day. More than a million Michigan residents voted ahead of Election Day, either in-person or through absentee ballots, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said during a press conference Monday. 

City Clerk Heather Bouck said that 353 early voters went through Powers Hall on the Central Michigan University campus from Feb. 17 to Feb. 25. She said these voters were from both Mount Pleasant and Union Township.

“Voting is important … because it's a way to get your voice out there. I know a lot of people are frustrated with the current system, with the elected officials who (we) may have in place, and going out and voting … and expressing your opinions on certain beliefs and on certain candidates is just vital in a democracy to make sure it works.”

— Central Votes President Carson Colley

Preliminary results from the Feb. 27, 2024, election show Isabella County and Mount Pleasant voters rejected two tax increase proposals. (CM Life illustration | staff)

Ganiard Elementary School: 10 to 11 a.m. 

At Ganiard Elementary School, more than 80 voters had already cast ballots by 10 a.m. Tuesday. It was was one of three specified precincts for city voters. 

Ashley Collett, the poll worker running the Ganiard Elementary polling center, said she expected to see around 300 in-person voters before the day was over.

“It’s been going great, it’s smooth,” she said. “We have a great operating system going here. Our city clerk always sets us up for success.”

A variety of residents turned out to vote that morning. One of those was Tom O’Connor, a 62-year-old man who has been living in Mount Pleasant for seven years.

“I love politics and watching campaigns,” he said. “I love supporting people that run for office.”

O’Connor said he voted for Donald Trump in the presidential campaign and said no to both millage increases. He said he’s concerned for the future of politics and government, especially when it comes to younger voters.

“I really hope that the kids in college start paying attention to the direction of the country,” he said. “In a lot of universities, people get caught up in this herd mentality, and it’s concerning.”

First-time voters also made an appearance at the polls. Sydney Synder just recently turned 18, and she showed up with her mother to vote for the first time.

“It was an easy, straightforward process, but it’s going to take some getting used to,” she said. “It was cool to do it at my first elementary school, too.”

Synder said she voted for Joe Biden, and said yes to both of the millages. She said she liked a lot of Biden's policies, such as those regarding student debt relief.

“I’d been following him and (independent presidential hopeful Robert F.) Kennedy Jr. for a while,” she said. “And I’m definitely not a huge fan of Trump. He said he’d roll back student debt and didn’t.”

Synder’s mother, Joelle MacDonald-Synder, also voted in the election for Biden and to approve both millages. She said she has been living in Mount Pleasant for 29 years and said it was important to her to vote in this election.

“I mainly voted for the aquatic center,” she said. “It’s important to me that we create that service, and that we continue services for public safety (and) that won’t make drastic cuts for county employees.”

(Central Michigan Life infographic | CM Life Staff)

Ganiard Elementary School: 7 to 7:30 p.m.

By 7:17 p.m. at Gainard Elementary, and with another 43 minutes until polls closed, Collett’s estimated 400 in-person voters had been far surpassed. She said 645 people voted at the school Tuesday. 

“It was amazing,” Collett said. “We have had amazing voter turnout. Everyone's been relatively pleasant throughout the entire day. So it's been a great day.”

Rebecca and Chris Bundy, Mount Pleasant residents, were among them.

“(Voting) is something that is vastly important for our entire country,” Rebecca said. “And I feel that it is also a privilege.

“It's critical and our democracy is founded on the freedom to select.”

Brendan Zeien voted to have his voice heard. 

“My thoughts are pretty neutral on the primary candidates,” Zeien said. “Just because there's been a lot of controversy and politics in the past few years, and I haven't been really up to date with all the debates, because I've tried to stay out of it. I'm a little bit neutral stance there.”

Zeien said he hoped proposal on the pool in Mount Pleasant would be passed, but he wasn’t sure how the city would vote. 

“I think both (proposals) are important … and they're both important to vote on,” Zeien said. “And I thought there were good proposals and they're thought provoking.”

The Bundys supported the pool proposal. Chris, who is now a director of Parks and Recreation, ran the first pool in Mount Pleasant before it closed.

“I feel the pool would be a great resource for this community, because it is something that was needed for decades,” Rebecca said.

The pool would create opportunities for students, second graders to take free swim lessons and seniors to exercise, they said. 

However, the county millage proposal was odd to see on the ballot, Rebecca said. 

“I think that a governmental entity should be able to manage their funds appropriately and judiciously, to know exactly how their funds are being used,” Rebecca said. “I don't think that they should require to come to the public within their own county and ask for even more money than what they're already operating on.”

Chris said he thought the revenue was enough to keep the county moving forward. 

“That's kind of how it was sold to the county residents,” Chris said. “Those would generate plenty of funds well in the future. So, we're frankly shocked to see this on the ballot.”

Central Michigan University - 8 to 9 p.m.

At Central Michigan University, Central Votes gathered as a group of six students at Anspach Hall to watch the primary elections.

“Voting is important … because it's a way to get your voice out there,” Carson Colley, Central Votes president, said. “I know a lot of people are frustrated with the current system, with the elected officials who (we) may have in place, and going out and voting … and expressing your opinions on certain beliefs and on certain candidates is just vital in a democracy to make sure it works.”

As a Central Votes president, Colley said he remains as non-partisan as possible. 

“But I think it's just important that each person goes out there, makes their own opinions, does the research and comes to the right decision at the end of the day,” Colley said.