Politics & Government
10:59 am
Fri August 1, 2014

Why you should bother to vote in the Michigan primary next Tuesday

If you have been listening to the news much lately, you are probably aware there’s a statewide primary election next week, and a fairly interesting one at that.

Four of Michigan’s 16 congressmen are leaving this year, one to run for the Senate. Some of the others, including Justin Amash, Dan Benishek, Kerry Bentivolio and John Conyers have serious primary challenges in their own parties.

Every seat in the Legislature is up for grabs. Democrats desperately want to win at least one house back. Term limits mean that nearly one third of all the legislators have to leave.

That has meant energetic and expensive primaries in most of those districts, and a number of incumbent legislators face primary opponents as well. They include establishment Republicans fighting Tea Party challengers, and Democratic state Sens.Vincent Gregory and Virgil Smith, both are trying to fend off challenges from term-limited legislators playing musical chairs.

Plus, there is a confusing but important statewide ballot proposition – Proposal One – on the ballot everywhere.

With all this going on, you might think this would mean a high voter turnout. But sadly, you would be wrong. Here’s a depressing prediction: Despite all these races and record campaign spending in many of them, I think that less than one out of every five registered voters will even cast a ballot in this election.

That prediction isn’t rocket science. I looked to see what voter turnout had been in previous primaries. Four years ago it was 22%.

But that was better than usual, probably because there were big struggles in both parties for the nominations for governor. This year, those nominations were settled early. Mark Schauer and Rick Snyder are the only names on the ballot.

Same thing for U.S. senator. It’s Republican Terri Lynn Land and Democrat Gary Peters, period.

That makes me think turnout this year will be closer to what it was eight years ago, when less than 17% of eligible voters cast ballots. This is sort of a disgrace … and not very smart.

Every seat in the legislature is up for grabs.

I’ve met a lot of people who don’t vote in primaries; they wait for the general election, which they see as the important one.

Unfortunately, their premise is totally wrong. Thanks to gerrymandering, in most cases, the primary is THE election.

Whoever wins the Republican congressional nomination in the 4th District or the Democratic one in the 14th will be automatically elected in November against token opposition.

There are things our lawmakers could do to help better turnout – if they wanted to. The first week of August is a lousy time to have a primary. Change it to September or May. Have early voting days, as Texas, Ohio and other civilized states do. Have no-fault absentee ballots, so that anyone can get one for any reason.

And we could all do a better job educating people about voting. Monday, the day before the election, is a sad anniversary. Exactly half a century earlier, the bodies were discovered of three young civil rights workers in Mississippi who were murdered for one reason.

They were trying to register people to vote. Because of them, I always vote, in every election. You should too.        

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.