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Voting 101: Understanding differences between wards, precincts, quadrants, neighborhoods

Wards and precincts as electoral districts are important to understanding how local politics work and where to vote.
Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids /Elizabeth Rogers Drouillard

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Ward and precinct map of the city of Grand Rapids

Ward and precinct map of the city of Grand Rapids /City of Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids has wards, precincts, neighborhoods and quadrants. This can be sometimes be confusing. Understanding what wards and precincts are, and how they differentiate from neighborhoods and quadrants, is important for local elections.

Wards are electoral districts used in a city for local elections and polling. These are then further divided into precincts. Grand Rapids has three wards and each ward has 20 to 25 precincts. Ward 1 has 24 precincts, Ward 2 has 26 and Ward 3 has 27.

In Grand Rapids, each ward has two city commissioners to represent it. The city commissioners are currently Walt Gutowski and Dave Shaffer representing Ward 1, Rosalynn Bliss and Ruth E. Kelly representing Ward 2, and Sentia Lenear and Elias Lumpkins, Jr. representing Ward 3. At Grand Rapids' upcoming election the seats of Gutowski, and Lumpkins will be open for new city commissioners. Gutowski and Lumpkins are not able to run again because of the new term limit law preventing them from getting re-elected. 

Historically, Grand Rapids had five wards in the original city charter of April 2, 1850. (Back when the mayor was allowed a salary of one dollar a year.) A revision of the charter in March 1871 increased the wards to eight. In the early 1900's during some political upheaval, there were 12 wards with 12 aldermen. Then the boundaries were fixed for six wards in a new charter in 1916, but these plans were dropped.

Three wards with two commissioners from each ward and one commissioner elected at large, the mayor, was finally settled upon. Ward boundaries fixed in 1916 lasted until 1966, with a 1923 revision. Pre-1923 the Commissioners were elected at large and had no affiliation with a particular ward. There have been changes in the ward boundaries over the years but the three wards with two city commissioners and a mayor system has been in place without much change since 1916.

Precincts are the smaller subdivisions of wards in which the polling locations for voting are held. Citizens at addresses in the same precinct all vote at the same polling station. These electoral precincts are different from police patrol precincts.

Neighborhoods in Grand Rapids number up to 32. For a list of all Grand Rapids' neighborhoods, including basic information on how they were formed or started and some demographic information, click here. The Community Research Institute has a great Grand Rapids neighborhood map.

Quadrants are used in Grand Rapids, but most American cities don't have them. The other most well known cities to have quadrants are Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Georgia.  Our city is divided into these four areas at Division Avenue and Fulton Street and these quadrants extend out to the boundaries of Kent County. Northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast comprise the four quadrants and are used in Kent County mailing addresses. For example, there is a 100 Lafeyette NE and a 100 Lafeyette SE. Citizens of Grand Rapids often talk in terms of quadrants as well as neighborhoods when referring to the city and county.

Grand Rapids has quadrants due to a letter carrier who proposed a plan to harmonize all the road names to make postal routes and directions easier. The city commission voted in his proposal in 1911 and in the 1940's, the system was extended throughout Kent County.

Citizens can to determine in which ward they reside and which city commissioners represent them here. Polling locations are here. Here is information on how to register to vote.

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