Graphic via Shutterstock
Graphic via Shutterstock

From Kalamazoo to Livonia to Marquette, young Michiganders are looking at races closer to home as they head to the polls.

MICHIGAN—While the senate and presidential races in Michigan capture a lot of attention, some young Michiganders are energized by people farther down the ballot. 

There are a lot of races decided by the Nov. 3 election that receive far fewer headlines but are no less important. From county clerks to university boards, Michiganders will be voting on all sorts of down ballot races. These races are, unfortunately, subject to a phenomenon called ballot roll-off.

Ballot roll-off refers to the tendency for voters to be less likely to vote in a given race the farther down it is on the ballot, a result of voters tending to have less information and consider those races less important. But to some Michiganders, those races are the most important, and the most inspiring. 

Young Michiganders highlighted some candidates they consider to be the most inspiring names on the ballot. Here are seven.

Elizabeth Welch, Michigan Supreme Court

While polling by Lake Effect has Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack in a commanding lead for re-election to the state’s highest court, the other candidate endorsed by Democrats is lesser-known. That worries Port Huron mom Bridget Huff. 

Huff is a young community organizer in Michigan’s largely rural St. Clair County who has a finger on the pulse of young, progressive Michiganders. And she’s motivated to help Welch get on the bench.

“The amount of ‘who’s the other person I should.pick with McCormack?’ texts I’m getting is scaring the f–k out of me,” Huff told The ‘Gander. “ I just cannot grasp how people are missing it.”

Welch is seen as a critically important candidate for Michigan progressives following the October decision by the state Supreme Court to strike down the emergency authority of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The margin of that decision was narrow enough that voting for or against Welch is, ultimately, a reflection of voting to potentially change or keep that court decision

Rashida Tlaib, United States Congress

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) is in a pretty safe district. But as a popular young congresswoman of color and member of The Squad, she’s using her voice and popularity to energize other young voters to turn out to the polls, and she’s making waves.

She even got a Spartan to tweet “Go Blue.”

Tlaib called on her fans, followers and constituents all to encourage three family members to vote, taking to social media to say that organizing begins at home. 

Jon Hoadley, United States Congress

State Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) has been inspiring the young crowd in his college town for a decade, and shows no signs of slowing down. He started as the head of the OneKalamazoo campaign in 2010 bringing to the city protections for LGBTQ Michiganders against employment and housing discrimination. 

Hoadley is taking on Rep. Fred Upton, who has faced declining popularity amid changing demographics of Kalamazoo County as more attendees of the local colleges and universities lay down roots in the community (locals call it ‘the Kalamaglue effect’) and throw support behind candidates like Hoadley.

Dana Ferguson, United States Congress

Young progressives see a lot of potential in an unexpected place with Dana Ferguson. Ferguson is a father, a former carpenter and a third-generation Yooper.

The largely rural Upper Peninsula has a reputation as being fairly conservative, but Ferguson poses the possibility of flipping Michigan’s first district and that alone has young activists interested in his campaign. Add to that his dedication to his constituency and Ferguson is driving turnout in Marquette.

“Being a Representative is about knowing your constituents. It’s about understanding what they go through on a daily basis,” said Ferguson. “It’s about knowing their struggles, knowing what’s important to them and knowing the challenges they face. If you don’t know who you represent, how can you represent them? I know the people of the first district. I am one of them, and have been my whole life.”​

That’s something his supporters contrast with the current representative, Jack Bergman. 

Lily Cheng-Schulting, Michigan House

Lily Cheng-Schulting is running for the state legislature in Kentwood, a suburb of Grand Rapids. Huff also identified her as a progressive candidate Michigan’s youth is motivated to support. 

“Amid deep problems in our society, I am a proven disability and human rights advocate,” Cheng-Schulting said. “My top priority is to ensure a high quality of life for everyone! I will listen to all views and create solutions together with you!”

And Cheng-Schulting netted an impressive endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in what her supporters called “a Yuge endorsement” on Facebook. 

One constituent told Cheng-Schutting that the endorsement was “an awesome acknowledgment of your values and your strong campaign!”

Laurie Pohutsky, Michigan House

After winning by a thin margin in 2018, Rep. Laurie Pohutsky has gone on to advocate for things that matter to young Livonia progressives. From fighting to include educators in the state’s school reopening plan to standing up for women’s rights to creating real change in the state’s policies related to coronavirus in nursing homes, Pohutsky is a firebrand in the Michigan House. 

“You are the first politician in my life that took the time to knock on my door and ask me how you could help,” one of her constituents told her. 

Recently, Pohutsky took to Facebook in a direct address to her constituents talking about how surviving sexual assault has shaped her.

Abraham Aiyash, Michigan House

Abraham Aiyash is running to replace his dear friend, the late Rep. Isaac Robinson who died of a suspected case of coronavirus early in the pandemic. 

“Abraham and Isaac!” Robinson would say to Aiyash. “My biblical brother!”

His story is incredibly moving, but it’s as much his policies that motivate young voters in Hamtramck to support him. 

“It’s bittersweet, Isaac was a friend and political mentor,” Aiyash told The ‘Gander. “This is an unfortunate opportunity, but the work—social, environmental and economic justice—has to continue. I hope to play a small part in that journey and build a more just and more equitable Michigan.”

From ending police brutality to focusing attention on the “caring economy”—workers giving care to children and seniors—Aiyash has a swath of policy proposals he considers to be, at least in part, carrying on Robinson’s mission. He framed himself as a fighter for social, environmental and economic justice.