Tomorrow is primary election day, and if you are like most Michigan voters, I can tell you exactly how you are going to vote: You won’t.
Turnout in Michigan’s August primary has averaged around 20 percent. That means four out of every five registered voters don‘t vote. One man told me he didn’t bother with primaries. He said, “I wait and vote in the real election,” in November.
Well, that isn’t only neglecting his civic responsibilities, it is also ignorant. Here’s something that may be news to you: For most contested races in this state, tomorrow is the real election.
Most races these days are entirely one-party affairs. Michigan is still a swing state, where voters elect both Democrats and Republicans to statewide office.
But the lawmakers have deliberately drawn most legislative and congressional districts to be overwhelmingly dominated by one party or another.
Here’s what that means:
There are four major, hard-fought congressional races that will be decided in tomorrow’s primary. Democrats have multi-candidate contests in the 11th, 13th and 14th districts.
Republicans also have a fight in the eleventh, where Nancy Cassis is trying to beat Kerry Bentivolio with a write-in campaign.
Thanks to a combination of strange circumstances, the 11th district, the one where Congressman Thad McCotter did his incredible disappearing act, may be competitive in November.
But the 13th and 14th districts won’t be. Those districts are so overwhelmingly Democratic that the primary is the real race. There are even more safe Republican districts.
The only Congressional race expected to be tight in November is the rematch of Dan Benishek and Gary McDowell for a district that stretches across the top of the state.
Most state legislative seats are one-party affairs too, including most of the 22 open seats with no incumbent. In four other seats, pairs of Democratic incumbents are running against each other, thanks to redistricting.
Republicans should have an added incentive to vote tomorrow. There is a hotly contested primary for the U.S. Senate, in which the main candidates are Pete Hoekstra and Clark Durant. Michigan Republicans have been an abysmal failure in U.S. Senate elections in recent years. They’ve lost 10 of their last 11 tries. You would think finding the best candidate to take on Debbie Stabenow would motivate them.
But maybe not. Turnout, however, is everything. I mentioned Congressman Dan Benishek. Two years ago, he was an underdog when he took on the much-better known State Senator Jason Allen in the primary. Benishek was an Upper Peninsula surgeon with no prior political experience, but the Tea Party loved him, and went to work. He beat Allen by 15 votes.
It doesn’t take many votes to make a difference sometimes, and it won’t tomorrow. You may also have other races on your local ballot. Voters in Metropolitan Detroit get to decide whether to tax themselves to save the Detroit Institute of Arts.
No matter what your politics, you are unlikely to be happy with all the results. But there is one rule in politics: If you don’t play the game, no fair moaning about the result.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's Political Analyst. Views expressed in the essays be Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.