Detroit Dispatch #10: Concerns about the election

October 4, 2020

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

2 thoughts on “Detroit Dispatch #10: Concerns about the election

  1. Update: Exposure of the far-right wing plots to kidnap Governor Whitmer and to storm the capitol to start a race war is extremely frightening. It is not new, especially in Michigan, where there has been a major Ku Klux Klan presence for decades and where in 1995 the Michigan Militia spawned Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who bombed the federal office building in Oklahoma, killing almost 200 workers along with 30 of their children in the day care center.

    President Trump consistently has refused to condemn white supremacists when his own Department of Justice labels them the major domestic terrorist threat. Just 10 days before the plot was revealed he told them to “stand back and stand by,” adding fuel to this growing menace to American democracy.

    People are scared but even more determined to vote, and that their vote will count. Black Detroiters often shop in white suburbs where goods are of better quality and availability than inside city limits. Because COVID masks make it harder to assess the other shoppers, people are not only alert for proper social distancing, but wondering if someone nearby will shoot up the store! The parallels to countries like Belarus where despite mass protests, opposition candidates had to flee the country, or Russia where opposition candidates are banned from running, if not jailed, tortured and murdered, seem closer than ever.

    However, in Detroit residential neighborhoods people are cooperating to ensure fair and accurate voting: they know the cynicism of young people isn’t “wrong” but are determined to fight at least for no further rollback of democracy, and to correct the preventable systemic flaws that undermine fair elections. One church has offered its 15-passenger van to take people to the poll or for early voting or to post offices and drop boxes. Another group has made arrangements for people to become poll-watchers. In Michigan, if absentee ballots do not arrive, early voting and drop boxes are available until November 2.

  2. In Detroit Early voting is going strong, as is use of official drop boxes—local media and social media advised people NOT to mail ballots after October 20. Reports indicated that the Detroit area postal service is one of the slowest in the country. Eight days before November 3, I observed a letter carrier depositing 3-4 ballot envelopes into a drop box. It is illegal for another person to deliver an absentee ballot but I wanted to cheer for that postal worker! The Detroit Team for Fair Elections, part of the Michigan Election Reform Alliance, is organizing volunteers to be challengers on election day to watch over the election. One consequence (surely unintended) of Republican voter suppression here is newly-awakened awareness, and increased action to ensure that vote processing is carried out correctly.
    Now people are worried about what happens AFTER November 3. A lot of people envision “rioting” or civil war. One Black woman told me, “Despite all the Republican hype about riots and race wars, that is exactly what they want. Their greatest fear is that there will NOT be a “race war,” like Black Lives Matter is now multi-racial and multi-national. That is what scares them, because they would not be able to control and use it.”

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