The Ann Arbor City Council primary showed low voter turnout last Tuesday as 7.35 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in the Second Ward, and only 4.22 percent in the Fourth Ward.
Former Republicans Stephen Rapundalo and Marcia Higgins won in the Second and Fourth Ward primaries by close margins. In the Second Ward, Rapundalo, a research scientist for Pfizer Inc., beat his University student opponent, Eugene Kang, 575 votes to 480. Marcia Higgins, the incumbent running for her fourth term, won in the Fourth Ward over City Commissioner, Eric Lipson, 319 votes to 250.
Rapundalo said that he was surprised by the poor poll attendance on election day.
“I was struck by the low turnout in some areas like (Ward) 2 (Precinct) 3 and (Ward) 2 (Precinct) 4, along with no turnout at Markley Hall whatsoever,” Rapundalo said.
Lipson shared Rapundalo’s dissatisfaction of low numbers at the polls.
“I was disappointed in the weak turnout as much as anything else. 569 voters out of 17,000 registered are not encouraging. I knew Marcia (Higgins) had an advantage as an incumbent. I thought I could overcome it,” Lipson said.
LSA-SG President Andrew Yahkind, who lives in Ward 3, said that based on City Council’s actions over the past two years, it is vital for students to have representation.
Yahkind said that City Council is “oblivious to the reality that surrounds them” and that eventually students should have some representation on City Council.
Yahkind said that the gerrymandering of students, who comprise one third of the population in Ann Arbor, is a way of ensuring that students “don’t have a representative on City Council.” He added that the creation of one or two city wards composed of students would help get people like Kang — who could represent students’ interests cohesively — elected.
Yahkind said if students were also in town while primary elections were taking place they may be able to get representation in the city.
He added it was impressive that Kang could perform as well as he did despite the fact that most students were not in Ann Arbor.
In Precinct 2, of Ann Arbor’s Second Ward, there were zero votes cast for the primary.
Kang said he believed if more students had been in town there would have been a different result in poll numbers.
“There are almost 4000 students in the two precincts in the ward, and I know we would have been able to organize them and show them why it was important to vote,” Kang said.
Alex Donn, Kang’s campaign manager, said votes lost in the Second Ward due to students leaving for the summer could have changed the election.
“If even a fraction of Ward 2’s student population had found a way to remain in the Ward after the dorms were closed for the summer, Eugene would have won this race,” Donn said. “We won more precincts than our opponent did and earned over 45 percent of the vote at (a) time when almost every student in the Ward was out of town.”
“There are 10 seats on the Ann Arbor City Council. An undergraduate should have one of them,” Donn added.
Lipson echoed Donn and Kang’s sentiments, stating that Kang’s election may have had a different outcome if students actually had been in town.
Lipson won the single vote cast in Precinct 1 of the Fourth Ward.
This was the only dorm precinct in Ward 4.
Lipson said that students presence during the primary probably would have helped Kang most.
Lipson added, “If students want to become a force in the community they have to organize themselves and have to become registered to vote.”
Kang said that not focusing on absentee ballots also contributed to his loss.
“Around 400 absentee ballots were cast — we were able to reach only about 50 of them, but Mr. Rapundalo reached all of them through a targeted mailing,” Kang added.
Kang said that despite losing the primary he believes a moral victory was accomplished. He said through his defeat, young people in Ann Arbor who hope to make a difference will now be considered legitimate.
Michigan Student Assembly President Jesse Levine said Kang ran a good race and he respects the work that went into his campaign.
He added that it is frustrating to have a primary in the summer, which interferes with student participation.
“I’d like to see someone check into the legality of changing the primary date,” Levine said.