East Lansing and MSU in the Spotlight of Midterm Elections

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City of East Lansing courtesy photo

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson speaks at a get-out-the-vote event held Oct. 10, 2022. The event on the MSU campus was organized by the EL City Clerk's Office.

The eyes of people across the nation were on the East Lansing and Michigan State University communities as the midterm elections brought national campaign activities and high voter turnout to town on Nov. 8. Locally, MSU students registering on Election Day to vote faced long lines, but overall, the election went smoothly.

Slotkin-Cheney rally drew hundreds to the ELHS gym. 

A crowd of hundreds welcomed U.S. Representatives Elissa Slotkin and Liz Cheney to East Lansing High School (ELHS) on Nov. 1 as they held a joint-rally to promote Slotkin’s campaign. The event gained national attention and news coverage after Cheney, a republican from Wyoming, offered her support to Slotkin, who represents Michigan’s 8th congressional district. 

Local, state and national press showed up to cover the event in the high school gym. Both Slotkin and Cheney were met with cheers and applause from the audience, a majority of whom were older Michiganders.

Heather Brothers for ELi

National media converged on East Lansing High School for the Nov. 1, 2022, Elissa Slotkin and Liz Cheney campaign rally.

People from across mid-Michigan attended to hear Slotkin and Cheney speak about the importance of democracy and bipartisanship. 

“There has to be something more important than just winning elections,” Slotkin said as to why she and Cheney were highlighting bipartisan efforts in Congress. 

Following Slotkin, Cheney spoke and offered her support for the third-term congressional candidate. She called Slotkin “competent” and “hard-working,” while also stressing the importance of working across the aisle. Cheney, vice chair of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, lost her August primary. 

Each congresswoman spoke for about 20 minutes with frequent breaks for applause from the audience. 

The event was well attended, leading campaign staffers to add more chairs to the several hundred available right before the event started.

A representative from Slotkin’s campaign told ELi they chose East Lansing High School because it was a venue that “could accommodate the amount of interest” and “prior experience with a high-security event.” The fact that ELHS had formerly hosted an event for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was a selling point, too. The Slotkin campaign rented out the facility.

According to ELPS Superintendent Dori Leyko, no faculty or students were involved in organizing the event, but some ELPS administrators “engaged in security walk-throughs in advance of the visit.”

Locals were generally positive about a nationally-spotlighted event being held at ELHS

“It’s amazing,” said Asha Shah, a current Haslett resident who spent many years in East Lansing and whose children attended East Lansing schools. Shah expressed the importance of having an event so close to home, especially one she described as “to protect democracy.”

Heather Brothers for ELi

U.S. Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) speak to the large crowd during the Nov. 1, 2022, campaign event at East Lansing High School.

Deb Wiese of East Lansing expressed similar excitement. “It was phenomenal,” Wiese told ELi. “It’s very important Liz Cheney came.”

Leyko also highlighted the importance of the event for the East Lansing community, saying it provided “an opportunity for our students and staff to participate and engage in politics and social activism.” 

She said around 30 students were offered tickets to attend the event. In addition to students attending as audience members, high school student publications staffers worked side-by-side with media professionals. The Portrait, ELHS’s student newspaper, Editor-in-Chief of Copy Adan Quanwrote an in-depth story, while Tianna Train of the Ceniad yearbook handled photography duties. Quan also writes for ELi and is on the ELi Board of Directors.

Not everyone was happy with use of the gym for a political event. ELi received an anonymous complaint asking, “Why are East Lansing school officials favoring politics over their own students?” Student programming was bumped for the event.

MSU students waited in line until after midnight to vote.

While most local precincts did not have long wait times for voters on Nov. 8, there were two notable exceptions: the clerk’s offices at City Hall and on Michigan State University’s campus. 

A satellite clerk’s office was set up at MSU’s Brody Square and a line of students stretched down hallways and through the building there. One student who spoke with ELi had been waiting in line for two-and-a-half hours, and The State News reported some students waited more than four hours. 

The city clerk’s office at City Hall also had a line that stretched out of the building for much of the day, though that line was notably shorter. The reason these locations had long lines is that, following a proposal passed by Michigan voters in 2018, people can now register and vote the same day, even on Election Day. But only clerk’s offices can register new voters and change addresses for voters registered elsewhere. Other polling locations are unable to do this. 

Lucas Day for ELi

The East Lansing City Clerk’s Office had a long line of residents Tuesday, Nov. 8, waiting to register to vote, change their addresses or to vote in the 2022 Midterm Elections.

In order to cut down on the line at the city clerk’s office, some voters were registered and then sent to other nearby precincts to vote. This way, voters did not also have to cast their ballot at the clerk’s office, allowing workers to focus on registering voters. 

Most of the people waiting in the clerk’s offices’ lines were students who were looking to register for the first time or change their voter registration from their hometowns. The issue of students registering the day of the election and creating long lines is not a new one; in 2020 students remained in line for nearly three hours after polls closed. 

At the Tuesday, Nov. 15, East Lansing City Council meeting, Councilmember Jessy Gregg said many city staff members left their jobs to assist with students registering to vote. She pointed out it is a trend that college towns have long lines of voters registering the day of the election and said she will be looking for ways the city can adjust.  

“I’m going to be consulting with people who have more knowledge than I do about the election cycle and see if there’s some sort of message that we can send to our state government about assistance needed for those heavy work days,” Gregg said. 

Shuster is away this week and was not available for questions or comments.

Satellite clerk’s offices in Ann Arbor reported similar wait times to the East Lansing office. 

One precinct had an accessibility issue

A mistake left the polling location at United Reformed Church without an accessible entrance at the start of voting. The church has an accessible entrance in the back of the building. However, that door is on a timer and was locked until at least 8:30 a.m., according to an email chain obtained by ELi. 

As a result, for about the first 90 minutes of the election, the precinct’s only entrance required voters to use stairs. Federal law requires all polling places be accessible. When election workers were notified the accessible entrance was locked, they immediately contacted church staff to unlock it. 

Voters overwhelmingly supported renewing East Lansing Public Library millage

The East Lansing Public Library (ELPL) will receive .997 mills after the measure received strong support from voters. There were 10,267 votes cast in favor of renewing the millage and fewer than 2,000 against. 

The passage of the ballot initiative will keep the library from needing to make major cuts in staffing or programming. Speaking with ELi prior to the election, ELPL Director Kristin Shelley explained that the library is primarily funded by two millages, each for .997 mills. One is approved by East Lansing City Council, the other is approved by voters. 

City of East Lansing courtesy photo

East Lansing Public Library Director Kristin Shelley speaks at the Sept. 29, 2022, ribbon cutting for the vibrant mural on the west wall of the library.

Shelley said the library would become “a shell of itself” if the millage did not pass. 

“It pays for staff, it pays for collections, it pays for computers, it pays for programming, it pays for pretty much anything that you could think about,” she said. 

The library millage was first instituted by voters 10 years ago. In 2012, the millage passed with 10,519 votes in favor and 4,511 against. 

In general, things seemed to go well in this midterm election.

Turnout numbers were similar in Ingham County to 2018, which had high turnout. In 2022, 119,066 ballots were cast in the governor’s race, compared to 119,230 in 2018. This is in contrast to 2010 and 2014 where only 88,153 and 88,620 ballots were cast in the governor’s race in Ingham County. Overall, 55.66% of registered voters cast a ballot in 2022, compared to 60.15% in 2018. However, there were more than 14,000 more voters registered in 2022 than 2018. 

Outside of the clerk’s offices, precincts did not appear to have long lines. Following the approval of the ballot initiative in 2018 allowing absentee voting for any reason, more and more voters cast their ballots prior to election day, which cut down on the number of people at the polls on election day. 

Gregg and Councilmember Dana Watson complimented election workers during Tuesday’s Council meeting. Gregg said the absentee ballot board is not allowed to leave until all absentee ballots are counted and spent more than 24 hours tallying votes. 

Mayor Ron Bacon said he saw East Lansing’s election being talked about nationally. 

“It was mentioned on really any outlet, including financial outlets like Bloomberg and other places,” he said. “I didn’t anticipate people talking about an election in East Lansing and the representation of young people. It was very impressive representation.”

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