Midterm turnout skyrockets for Allegan County

Ryan Lewis, Editor

The Nov. 6 midterm general election saw many incumbents hold onto their seats in Allegan County along with several local ballot proposals pass. See all official vote tallies here.

With the major exception of Saugatuck Township, where four Democrats ousted four incumbent Republicans in a recall election, incumbents were generally winners at the state level on down to village councils.

State Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township, won her second full term to the Michigan House of Representatives, District 80, garnering nearly twice as many votes as her Democratic challenger. In District 72, Republican Rep. Steven Johnson won reelection with nearly 54 percent of the vote.

While Democrats had an unprecedented presence on this ballot, they did not manage to break into any long-held Republican incumbent seats. That was most evident on the Allegan County board of Commissioners, where none of the sitting GOP commissioners lost their races.

It was closest in District 5—the group of six townships in the southwest of the county—where Tom Jessup’s Democratic challenger came within 450 votes. Even in District 1, which includes the northwest corner of the county with the Saugatuck and Douglas areas, the Democrat garnered approximately 3,700 votes to board chair Dean Kapenga’s 4,500-plus total.

Even where District 7’s Don Black was stepping down, Republican Rick Cain topped the Democratic challenger by more than 1,000 votes.

Only one incumbent lost at a local level, except on the Allegan District Library board, though that may change. There were contested races for Hamilton, Martin and Plainwell school boards, the Hopkins and Martin village councils, the Otsego city commission and the Plainwell city council.

The only incumbent to lose was Roger Keeney on Plainwell City Council. There were three seats total up for election; Mayor Rick Brooks and council trustee Brad Keeler had enough votes to secure their reelection. Keeney and Stephen Bennett, the fourth candidate in the mix, both wound up with 608 votes. Per city charter, lots were drawn and Bennett won the tiebreaker. That drawing was Wednesday, Nov. 14, after The Allegan County News went to press. There is a six-day window in which a recount may be requested, costing $25, which Keeney said Nov. 15 he intended to take advantage of.

Each ballot proposal passed by wide margins. That includes two millage renewals for fire protection and ambulance services in Cheshire Township, a Headlee override for Fennville, a fire/emergency services millage for Martin Township and a road millage renewal for Otsego Township.



Turnout was high for the election, with 54.7 percent of registered voters casting ballots. That’s 51,274 voting out of 85,040.

Turnout was nearly double that of the August primary, which had 28.5 percent.

Allegan County Clerk-Register Bob Genetski said high turnout made for very busy polling locations, especially considering the thousands of absentee ballots the workers needed to process.

Genetski said, “Usually, there’s a lull to process the AV ballots, but there really weren’t in any of the precincts.”

He said that while new ballot counting machines performed well overall, there were some scattered problems.

“We had a few machine malfunctions or issues, but nothing across the board,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to our election workers for working those out. In one case, there was a power outage in Valley Township. I’m thankful for Allegan County Facilities for getting a generator out there.”

Some machines slowed down in their processing of the ballots, others had paper jams.

“A lot of the problems were where the machine didn’t recognize the ballot, and we had to restart them or put a new tabulator in place,” he said. “There will be a lot of training coming up in off-election years so we’re all skilled at taking care of some of the more detailed messages given from the machines.

“Overall, I’m pleased. Any issues or delays weren’t things clerks were directly responsible for. A lot of the machine malfunctions were things they weren’t necessarily familiar with.”



To demonstrate the kind of bump the high voter turnout gave to the vote totals: 10,679 voted for Whiteford in the primary, where she ran unopposed. She garnered 25,000 votes last week. By comparison, the two Democrats, Erik Almquist and Mark Ludwig, had 6,140 between the two of them in the primary. Ludwig won and got approximately 14,000 votes last week.

It’s all still a step down from 2016’s presidential election turnout of 67 percent. Then, nearly 30,000 voted for Whiteford while a little over 12,000 voted for her Democratic challenger. And, overall, this midterm turnout was way above that of 2014, which had 37.5 percent.

On the heels of the election results, Whiteford was elected by her fellow legislators as assistant floor leader for the 2019-20 legislative session. Though Democrats captured all the major statewide offices, Republicans continue to hold a majority in the state House. As assistant majority floor leader, Whiteford “will be responsible for assisting the majority floor leader in directing activities on the House floor,” according to a press release last week from Whiteford’s office.

She wasn’t the only one with a leadership position with connections to Allegan County. Republican Aric Nesbitt of Lawton, a former three-term state representative, won his bid to return to the legislature, this time as a state senator, having won the District 26 seat Tonya Schuitmaker must leave due to term limits.

This week, Nesbitt announced he will serve as the president pro tempore of the Michigan Senate, a senior officer authorized to perform certain duties in the absence of the lieutenant governor.


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