Why Voting Matters

Aug 6, 2014

Whatever your politics, there is both good news in yesterday’s election results, as well as some lessons to be learned. First of all, the good news: It had been widely predicted that turnout yesterday would be an all-time low. Some analysts felt that fewer than a million people might vote, which would have been the lowest in modern history.

Fewer absentee ballots than expected had been taken out, there were no contests for governor or senator, and on top of that, it rained in much of Metro Detroit.

Yet, in the end, more than 1.3 million people voted. That’s less than one-fifth of those eligible. But it could have been worse. Something else perhaps encouraging is that those who spent the most money didn’t always win.

Paul Mitchell, a rich businessman from Saginaw County, spent millions in an effort to win the Republican nomination to Congress. He lost to veteran legislator John Moolenaar in a landslide. In a similar election in Grand Rapids, another millionaire, Brian Ellis, tried to defeat maverick GOP congressman, Justin Amash. Ellis lost badly too.

On the Democratic side, State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton spent twice as much as her two primary rivals combined to try to win a state senate primary. But she ended up finishing third.

David Trott, a wealthy Oakland County lawyer who is well known in the mortgage foreclosure business, did spend millions of his own fortune to successfully win a Republican primary election landslide over incumbent congressman Kerry Bentivolio.

But Bentivolio ran essentially no campaign, was unavailable for interviews, and seems to have committed a form of political suicide. Democrats also had a spirited primary there, and Bobby McKenzie, the choice of the party establishment, narrowly became the nominee.

He won, although he was vastly outspent by a rival, a physician who had deep pockets but seems to have seldom voted. A third candidate, Nancy Skinner, campaigned almost exclusively by launching nasty attacks on her rivals. She lost badly.

The primary also means that Michigan is bound to have another woman and another African-American in Congress. That will probably be Brenda Lawrence, the mayor of Southfield, who won the primary in a safe Democratic district. Her Republican opponent , Christina Conyers, is also a black woman.

This was both a good and a bad election for the Tea Party. Their candidates lost most of the races in which they challenged traditional incumbents.

But two of their nosiest leaders, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, won legislative nominations in safe GOP districts, and are sure to be a thorn in Rick Snyder’s side if he is reelected. Finally, last night’s election proves once again that every vote matters. State Representative Brian Banks has an interesting past, which includes eight felony convictions.

Nevertheless, he managed to win again. In a crowded field, Banks apparently beat Rebecca Thompson, the United Way’s respected community engagement director, by six votes. Possibly, we should think about having runoff elections, as many other states do, in cases where nobody gets even half the vote.

That, and move the primary at a time of year when half the state isn’t on vacation, and just might show up to vote.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.