Some elections in Michigan are decided by single-digit votes. These races remind voters how important each voice is.
ADRIAN, MI — Every vote counts in an election. In 2016, President Donald Trump won Michigan by only 10,000 votes — that’s less than half the crowd at a Red Wings game. But for down ballot races like county clerks and university boards, races can be decided by far narrower margins.
That’s especially true in rural areas, explained William Garcia, a Lenawee County activist and candidate for Michigan’s House.
“Because it’s low population density, because it’s low population in general, you probably don’t hear much about Adrian,” Garcia told The ‘Gander. “The last [city commission election], 2019, it was about 15% voter turnout. The commissioners needed about 900 votes each to get into their positions … That’s who determines our funding for our municipal everything.”
Adrian’s mayor, Angela Sword Heath, won her election by about 800 votes. The winning city commissioners had around 1,200 votes total. In Adrian, an estimated 14,000 people could vote in 2019. And those tight margins have dramatic impacts on Adrian.
Adrian’s city council will meet Monday to decide a controversial proposal to criminalize homelessness in the city with a “camping ban.” And the mayor and commissioners who will make that decision were selected by so few people they could fit into Detroit’s Fisher Theater.
And for Lenawee County, Adrian is metropolitan.
“We’re the only place in our county with a Walmart,” Garcia said. “We’re 50 minutes to an hour south of Ann Arbor, literally a straight line. We’re about 30 minutes north of Toledo. We’re a border town.”
The smaller the community, the more impactful the vote, Garcia explained.
Out of the nearly 7,000 residents of nearby Tecumseh, a bond proposal won at a margin of only 300 votes in 2019. Of the 1,600 people in Morenci, only 83 voted in the town’s mayoral election at all.
The same day in 2019, almost as far from Adrian as you can get and still be in Michigan, the city of Norway with a population near 3,000 elected its city commission as well. The difference between being on the city commission and not was just 16 votes. In Saugatuck in West Michigan the same election had 32 votes separating who was and was not on the city commission. Just 50 votes was winning by a wide margin for the city council race in Bad Ax.
And in the very, very small town of Hudsonville, only six votes were cast at all in 2019.
In elections like this, a single vote can make a difference. A family of four can sway an election. And while the numbers aren’t that close in Adrian, it still makes each voice even more impactful.
“All it takes is 900 votes,” Garcia said. “Can we get 20 people into this process? To start moving from people who are upset on Facebook … frustrated and rightfully so, to people making procedural policy changes and changing how governance works here? I think we can.”
Garcia is counting on that small group of dedicated people to help sway the decision Adrian’s city council will make Monday about how to address the issue of the least fortunate citizens of Adrian, and to hold those city commissioners accountable for their votes.
It doesn’t take that many voters to do it.