Detroit may see highest voter turnout in ‘20 to 30 years’

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Detroit had a high turnout from both in-person and absentee ballots on Election Day. (BridgeDetroit photo by Ralph Jones)

This story was updated 10:15 a.m. Wednesday

Detroit could see 53 percent to 55 percent voter turnout in Tuesday’s election, the highest in at least 20 years, the City Clerk said after the polls closed.

Turnout exceeded 2008’s participation when Barack Obama was elected. 

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey and election officials updated media on election night about Detroit’s preliminary returns while results are expected by late Wednesday. (BridgeDetroit photo by Ralph Jones)

Detroit is a key Democratic bloc in a state Donald Trump won by just 10,704 votes in 2016 when turnout was a low 48 percent and had 42,598 fewer votes compared to 2012. 

As of 9 a.m. Wednesday, the city’s Election Department website reported a 49.97 percent voter turnout, a total of 226,960 votes. That was based on half of the city’s precincts ballots fully counted, which means that percentage could change. 

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So far, that’s translated into more than 212,000 Detroit votes for Joe Biden, compared to 11,455 votes for Donald Trump.  Another big winner in the early results was Proposal N, the city’s plan to eliminate up to 16,000 blighted homes with a $250 million bond. The proposal was winning by a nearly 2-to1 margin.  

At a Tuesday night news conference at Ford Field, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said the “story of the day” was that the voting process went smoothly in Detroit and elsewhere. 

“We, by and large, saw peacefulness, mindfulness in precincts,” she said. Concerns of widespread voter intimidation did not become reality. And thanks to a revamping of the city’s election administration, Detroit appeared to run an efficient Election Day, along with a month of early voting, with few long lines or major citizen complaints, she said. 

Instead, the city may be on track to have a higher voter turnout rate than an Obama election.  Also, Detroit was among areas where same-day voter registration was far higher compared to other elections, Benson said. 

This heightened turnout is taking place after a statewide proposal passed which made it easier for people to register to vote and vote absentee in 2018. This also comes amid a local and state push to get more people to vote by mail due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which hit Detroit especially hard in March and April. 

Days before the presidential election, Michigan officials prepared for instances of voter intimidation and on Monday a masked man was kicked out of the TCF Center in Detroit where election workers began processing absentee ballots. The man reportedly used racist language and yelled at poll workers. A woman who refused to wear a face mask properly covering her mouth and nose was also escorted from the building by Detroit Police.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division, which enforces federal voting rights laws, sent officials to Detroit to monitor the polls. The division also sent poll monitors to Flint, Jackson, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Eastpointe and Shelby Township. 

Despite awareness of the potential for voter intimidation at the polls, Winfrey says there were no major incidents of this occurring at polling locations. 

Election officials expected more Detroiters to vote absentee than in-person on Election Day. (BridgeDetroit photo by Ralph Jones)

Emiley Gordy, the election chairperson for precinct 481 in southwest Detroit, says she saw an impressive turnout.

“There was a steady stream of voters coming in and out, and even lots of first-time voters, which is really exciting,” Gordy said. 

Detroiters turned out on Election Day and 15 percent of the electorate voted in-person, according to city election officials. 

This election is like no other in that there are more absentee ballots than ever. Winfrey’s office issued about 190,000 absentee ballots. She says about 172,00 have been returned. Winfrey added that about 120,000 have been tabulated, but only about 80,000 have been verified and counted. 

Some were concerned that voting in Detroit would be impacted by one of the slowest mail delivery rates in the country.  A federal judge today expedited the delivery of ballots to city clerks. Yet, the City Clerk said Detroit’s Postmaster General Derron Bray helped make sure mail-in ballots arrived at the city’s elections office on time. 

In addition, Detroit opened 23 satellite voting offices and 39 ballot drop boxes to encourage participation in Detroit. 

Winfrey says she expects election results by 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Orlando Bailey of BridgeDetroit contributed to this report.

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