Detroit–Among older Detroit residents, concerns about the November election are widespread, while too many young adults want to avoid all talk about it.
In past elections, community leaders and activists concentrated on “getting out the vote” with slogans like “Take your soles to the polls.” This year voters are learning of—and confused by—new options for voting thanks to recent state legislation allowing new voters to register up to election day, any voters to request and use an absentee ballot, eight early voting centers opening on October 5 and 34 drop box locations around the city. (In contrast, Texas just passed a law limiting one drop box per county.)
More people are aware that Detroit has suffered for years, not only from low voter turnout but seriously slipshod vote processing and counting. This year the State of Michigan has “partnered” with the city to correct problems ranging from uninformed poll workers, poor record-keeping, inadequate security at ballot-counting centers, to a walkout of some election workers during the August primary absentee ballot count. City Clerk Janice Winfrey has cited a shortage of poll workers—in a city with “officially” 25% unemployment—while she provided almost no recruitment effort.
This year, community activists and leaders decided early on that, as with increasing the census response rate, we would have to be the ones to get out the information, the voters, and the election workers. Election worker recruitment is better, but we still had to fight to get the list of drop box locations to share in a timely fashion.
Whether we can convince young people to vote remains to be seen: as one college student retorted, “The two controlling parties have put up the same two old white guys, who messed up this whole country. Do you know the definition of insanity? It’s doing the same old thing and expecting a different result.”
This is why community efforts continue to persuade absentee voters to sign their ballots and to mail them by Oct. 19, or to use their polling place, drop box, or early voting. One community group plans to create a safe voter support space outside a polling location, with a canopy and chairs so voters can rest if the lines are long. In 2016, Trump won Michigan by 10,300 votes. In the August primary, 9,000 absentee ballots were rejected. Yes, a few votes can make a difference!
—Susan Van Gelder