Local activist media and the myth of “low voter turnout”
Published November 2, 2023
Written by Henry
Photography by Simply American
14,337 more Ottawa County residents voted in the 2022 midterm election than in 2018—contrary to what local media would have you believe.
Midterm Election Turnout Through History
A midterm election refers to the election cycle when the president is not on the ballot. Voter turnout regularly drops in midterm elections and has done so since the 1840s. The last time midterm turnout exceeded the previous presidential election was in 1838—70.8% of those eligible voted in the 1838 midterm, compared to 56.5% who voted in the 1836 presidential election.
Voter turnout in U.S. presidential and midterm elections 1789-2020. Courtesy of statista.com
According to centerforpolitics.org, midterm turnout averages about 17 points lower than presidential turnout. Also of note, those who vote in midterm elections historically are the most informed and educated voters, realizing their duty at the polls and valuing their right to vote.
Local activist media in Ottawa County has failed its readers and the citizens by pushing the midterm election myths of “low voter turnout” and “people weren’t informed.”
The activist media also failed by only doing a recap of one year—rather than comparing the midterm results of previous years to see how Ottawa County truly looks.
Have Ottawa County voters become more politically involved? Compared to previous midterm years, how does Ottawa County fare?
Local Media Coverage Lacks Context And Data
The Ottawa County Elections Department has a user-friendly website for looking at past elections. The public can find information—results of May elections, primaries, and generals—all the way back to November 8, 2011.
There would be no reason for local journalists to not have data-driven information to pass onto the citizens of Ottawa County, unless those journalists were trying to guide their own bias into the minds of the public.
An example of activist reporting of the 2022 midterm election is the Holland Sentinel article entitled, “Did the majority of Ottawa County support Ottawa Impact at the polls? The data says no.”
Below is a breakdown of out-of-context quotes that appear in the Sentinel‘s article, followed by the context which was eliminated from the article.
“Voter turnout for August in Ottawa County was 34.3 percent… (continued in the next quote).” —Holland Sentinel
While true, the article failed to mention that 34.3% was the highest voter turnout in Ottawa County for a midterm primary.
The August 2022 midterm primary brought out a record 76,838 voters. The previous primary in 2018 turned out 62,501, or 31.6%, of registered voters in Ottawa County.
A full 14,337 more voters chose to vote in 2022 than in 2018.
August 2022 midterm primary election data:
34.3% of registered voters voted. View compiled data here.
August 2018 midterm primary election data:
31.6% of registered voters voted. View compiled data here.
August 2014 midterm primary election data:
19.5% of registered voters voted. View compiled data here.
August 2010 midterm primary election data:
32.2% of registered voters voted. View compiled data here.
August 2006 midterm primary election data:
19.6% of registered voters voted. View compiled data here.
Interesting to note:
According to data from the county’s election management website, midterm elections historically have a lower turn out. Ottawa County voters broke that narrative in the 2020 presidential primary with 72,213 voters turning out in August 2020, the same percentage of voters as the August 2022 midterm primary (34.3%).
That equates to 4,625 voters more involved in August 2022.
“(Continued from previous quote)… 34.3 percent meaning of the 224,301 registered voters who were eligible to cast ballots, 66 percent of them didn’t vote.” —Holland Sentinel
A truly dismal fact for sure, but context is missed again when not comparing data from previous elections. Looking only at midterm primary elections, Ottawa County did better in 2022 than in previous elections.
Recent midterm election data:
2022 August midterm: 34.3% voted, 65.7% did not vote
2018 August midterm: 31.6% voted, 68.4% did not vote
2014 August midterm: 19.5% voted, 80.5% did not vote
2010 August midterm: 32.2% voted, 67.8% did not vote
2006 August midterm: 19.6% voted, 80.4% did not vote
“Voting data also shows significant disparities between the number of ballots cast in each district and the number of voters who actually selected a candidate for their local commissioner race.”
“In the six contested races decided by default in August, where an Ottawa Impact candidate defeated a Republican incumbent with no challenger in the general, the districts (4, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 11) had a collective 111,610 registered voters, but only 42,570 (38.1 percent) of those people cast ballots, according to Ottawa County election data.” —Holland Sentinel
Once again these are true facts but lack comparative data to get a full picture.
In the August 2018 midterm primary, in the nine contested races decided by default, the districts (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11) had a collective 162,928 registered voters, but only 52,406 (32.2%) of those people cast ballots.
Compared to the 38.1% of voters who turned out in 2022, the August 2018 midterm primary recorded 5.9% fewer voters.
“Of those who voted, even fewer made a selection as to who they wanted for county commissioner: 33,863 or an average of 30.3 percent across the six districts voted for their representative.” —Holland Sentinel
Had the time been taken to do due diligence and compare prior years, the journalist would have discovered that in 2018 the commissioner vote turnout was lower than in 2022.
Of those who voted in the 2018 midterm primary, 21,978, or an average of 20.73% across those same six districts, made a selection as to whom they wanted for county commissioner.
In other words, 9.57% fewer voters indicated their choice for commissioner in the 2018 midterm primary than in the 2022 midterm primary.
Voters Showed Up For Change
In 2018, 38,515 Ottawa County voters filled in the ballot circle for one of the 16 commissioner candidates.
2022 voters blew that number out of the water with 62,929 coloring in the circle for one of 26 commissioner candidates.
And, with 40.11% of the historically informed midterm voters voting for an Ottawa Impact candidate, the turnout shatters the idea that people were not informed.
Even so, the Sentinel tries to spin the narrative of the races decided in the August 2022 midterm primary as being “low commissioner voter turnout,” and ends the article with seemingly bleak stats.
The turnout and stats are bleak when looked at through the narrow scope provided.
However, while the percentages do portray a low turnout when looking at just one year alone, the picture isn’t the same when examined with comparative data from the previous midterm in 2018.
BIGGER PICTURE COMPARISON OF COMMISSIONER VOTER TURNOUT
District 1 (Gretchen Cosby)
2018 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 18.5%
2022 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 35.7%, up a full 17.2 points
2018 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 11.4%
2022 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 19.68%, up 8.28 points
District 3 (Doug Zylstra)
2018 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 21.2%
2022 Commissioner Voter turnout: 23.11%, up 1.91 points
2018 Commissioner Voter turnout: 24.63%
2022 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 35.22%, up 10.59 points
District 6 (Kyle Terpstra)
2018 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 24.44%
2022 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 24.76%, up .32 points
District 7 (Rebekah Curran)
2018 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 20.97%
2022 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 27.54%, up 6.57 points
District 8 (Sylvia Rhodea)
2018 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 15.39%
2022 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 27%, up 11.61 points
Interesting to note:
From 2020 to 2022, District 8 lost 2.372 registered voters, and Commissioner Rhodea was still able to raise the turnout by 11.61 points and win her race with 71% of the vote.
District 9 (Roger Belknap)
2018 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 17.58%
2022 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 25.18%, up 7.6 points
District 10 (Roger Bergman)
2018 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 14%
2022 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 32.27%, up 18.27 points
District 11 (Allison Miedema)
2018 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 16.9%
2022 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 29.45%, up 12.55 points
In races that had Ottawa Impact candidates, the voter turnout rose substantially—minus one.
District 4 (Jacob Bonnema)
2018 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 28.6%
2022 Commissioner Voter Turnout: 27.93%, down .67
The Holland Sentinel tried to diminish the results of the voters of Ottawa County by only giving a narrow look.
The media did not provide all the data. This prevents voters from seeing that a majority of informed midterm voters chose candidates aligned with the pro-family platform Ottawa Impact promoted.
When the narrative is left unchecked, misinformation runs rampant even in the boardroom. One example occurred on June 27, 2023.
Vince Bush, Holland Township Treasurer, came to speak to the Board of Commissioners. He stated that he “represents over 42,000 residents, and 80% of them vote.”
Looking at the data for both the 2022 midterm primary and general elections, that statement is false. Only 24.19% of Holland Township voters voted in August 2022 and 52.31% voted in November 2022.
52.31% is not even close to Vince Bush’s claim of 80%.
View the August 2022 precinct results here.
View the November 2022 precinct results here.
Ottawa County Election Clerk, Justin Roebuck, has not been hesitant to correct what he believes is misinformation. But, could he have corrected the narrative on election results?
Ottawa County Voters Are Engaged
Looking at all the election data, past and present, Ottawa County voters consistently are becoming more engaged with local politics.
While living through the government response to Covid-19, many Ottawa County residents watched the local government go along with the heavy hand of the state and federal governments. In response, they spoke their minds, at the polls, and voted for new local leaders.
A look at all the data proves Ottawa County voters became more involved in 2022.
Giving a narrow view only sprinkled with data is detrimental to Ottawa County citizens.
Either local activist media was lazy and didn’t want to do the research, or these journalists wanted to control the narrative the citizens received.