Michigan’s August primary might be the next big test of a vote-by-mail response to a public health crisis like the world hasn’t seen in a century. It could also be a model that world can follow.
MICHIGAN — After a demonstrably successful May 5 election on local issues in about 50 communities, Michigan is ramping up toward the next challenge: Michigan’s August elections.
On a conference call with constituents Tuesday, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said that her office’s strongest lesson learned from May elections is how invested Michiganders are in the democratic process. Those lessons will shape the Aug. 4 election.
May’s elections shattered turnout records, The ‘Gander reported, with one in four eligible voters casting a ballot in an election that usually draws numbers closer to one in ten. That kind of turnout, especially during a pandemic, showed Benson that not only did the state;s vote-by-mail system work, voters were excited and engaged in local issues.
“People want to vote and weigh in on critical issues in their communities. … Even in crisis, democracy is essential,” said Benson following the election. “Voters should take assurance in this. With two state-wide elections on the horizon — this August and November — we have shown that we can protect your health and your right to vote.”
Michigan’s August Election
Michigan’s August elections represent the next step in testing mass mail-in voting following both May’s success and March’s introduction of no-reason necessary vote-by-mail. August poses primary elections for down-ballot races like Congress and the Senate, which typically wouldn’t get remarkably high turnout but would be something voted on in every jurisdiction in the state.
That isn’t to say nothing happens in these elections. Hotly contested primaries in 2018 in the Detroit area after a swath of retirements and resignations opened up competitive seats helped give rise to Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit)., one of Michigan’s young firebrand politicians and progressive member of “the squad.”
In 2020, the biggest primary might be on the west side of the state, where Justin Amash (I-Cascade Township) is facing a primary challenge because of his stark criticisms of President Donald Trump. As The ‘Gander has noted, Amash is looking at a potential Presidential run of his own, likely on the Libertarian ticket, but is confident he will hold his district.
Still, Amash has drawn a crowded primary field running against him, per MLive’s reports.
Explaining the process to voters from Amash’s district to Tlaib’s is one of the challenges Benson’s office has set for itself. Some misunderstandings about the absentee ballot process resulted in people who had intended to vote at home going in-person in May. Though those cases were rare, Benson has set communication as a top priority.
Benson is working to remind Michiganders that they can request absentee ballots for the remaining elections this year. You can get the needed form from the Secretary of State’s website and in just a few minutes fill it out, print it, sign it and mail it to your local clerk, whose address you can find directly on the website.
Another lesson Benson mentioned learning from May’s elections was that Michiganders aren’t just ready to step up and cast their vote, but are ready and willing to help ensure that vote is counted. She highlighted the state’s Democracy MVP program that aims to recruit election workers and its own smash success, recruiting thousands to help process a smooth and safe election despite the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Other Elections Could Follow Michigan’s Lead
Michigan’s successes can be contrasted with the disastrous elections held in Wisconsin (and The ‘Gander has), showing a model that can be applied to other states dealing with voting during a pandemic. But the wildly successful Michigan model has been opposed by President Donald Trump.
While at first President Trump argued that absentee voting is rife with fraud (which has not been proven factual), he recently tweeted that voting by mail should be opposed because it hurts Republican candidates.
“Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it,” Trump tweeted at Fox and Friends. “Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”
Trump’s hard push against vote-by-mail practices during a global pandemic has spread that distrust to his followers. But that naturally will suppress conservative turnout, as The ‘Gander reports, which has led to a strange campaigning dissonance on the right as Republicans both attack the practice of absentee voting and encourage Republican voters to get in their absentee ballot requests.
“While we strongly disagree with the ill-intended Democrat push for more mail-in ballots, we have an obligation to our voters to inform them of what the law is in their state and what their options are,” Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh said.
Wired posed a grim, near-dystopian image of November elections where voters were lining up for hours wearing masks and gloves, bringing their own pencils and often not casting a ballot at all because of fear that doing so risked their lives.
This sounds like a future that follows the model which got dozens of Wisconsinites infected with the coronavirus during their in-person vote in April.
Michigan has proved that its vote-by-mail model is the solution Wired was looking for, and Michigan’s August election will be the next trial of the bold new strategy. And it’s a strategy that could help the entire world.
The question of how to handle an election in this unpredictable time isn’t one that expires in November or is local to America, Radio Free Europe reports. It’s a global question that may take months or even years to solve.