Young voters are shattering records. Will they be engaged in Detroit?

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The ACLU of Michigan engaged artists including Rick Williams, creative director of The Distinct Life, to create murals that encourage voting in Detroit. (ACLU photo by Bre’Ann White)

This post has been updated to correct a mistake in the photo caption. Artist Phil Simpson is seen in the photo, not Ndubisi Okoye.

With an unprecedented number of absentee ballots requested and returned so far and the precautions taken due to the coronavirus pandemic, the November election is shaping up to be a very different onett. But there’s one thing that will be familiar to voters: choosing between two white men born in the 1940s when segregation was legal in the United States and Detroit was more than 80 percent white

The Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden and the current Republican President Donald Trump are 77 and 74 years old respectively. 

Some young Detroit voters believe their votes can make a difference for the future, despite choosing between presidential candidates from a different generation. 

Cameron Sanders (courtesy photo)


Cameron Sanders, a 21-year-old senior at Wayne State University, is voting in his first presidential election, but he’s not excited about his choices.

“We’re in times of such radical change and to have two old white dudes as our front–runners again, it’s kind of discouraging. It’s not really anything different from what I’ve seen, so it’s a disappointment,” Sanders said. 

Sanders believes exercising his right to vote now can create better choices in future elections.

“I think voting and showing up to vote now is a way of showing [elected officials] that we want to be a part of this process and that we want to be engaged, so that way they are more likely to have platforms and campaigns that reflect what it is younger people value,” he said. 

Young voters don’t make up a large number of Detroit’s voter population. According to Data Driven Detroit’s report on Youth Civic Engagement in Detroit, 18-24 year olds make up about 11 percent of the total city’s population but comprise just 8 percent of registered voters and  6 percent of active voters in the city. 

Those young adults are less likely to be registered and less likely to vote compared to the overall eligible voting population in Detroit, the report says.

Because of data like this and the fact that young people aren’t voting in large numbers, community and civil rights groups have stressed the importance of voting to younger Detroiters. 

The ACLU of Michigan launched the Your Vote Matters community art series in early September, hoping to use colorful murals in Detroit and Flint to inspire populations with historically low voter turnout, including young people, to become more civically engaged.

Recent research shows that young voters across the country are requesting absentee ballots at a higher number than previous elections. In Michigan, young voters are more than three times more likely to vote early than they were in 2016. 

The Michigan chapter of NextGen America, a nonprofit that seeks to mobilize young progressive voters, launched a video web series called Bridging the Gap, where community activists discuss the issues currently facing Detroiters including affordable housing, racial justice and criminal justice reform. 

Phil Simpson paints the word “vote” on an election mural, part of the Your Vote Matters art series. (ACLU photo by Bre’Ann White)

Sanders says criminal justice reform is one of the main issues influencing his decision to vote. 

“Police reform is a huge issue as a Black man in America, and you just see this cyclical nature of police shootings, protesting and rioting, and just general unwillingness to change in [law enforcement],” he said. 

Sanders says the fact that police brutality has become politicized distracts some people from the root of the issue.

“The reason why people are so upset is not that some police aren’t trying to do their job and protecting people, it’s that when they are failing to do so they are not being reprimanded for it not to the fullest, anyway,” he said. 

Bira Mosby (courtesy photo)

Bria Mosby, a 21-year old Detroit native and senior at Howard University, says young voters are more engaged than people realize. 

“Pretty much everybody who I’ve talked to expressed that they’re going to vote or they have voted already either doing absentee,” Mosby said. 

Mosby, who is registered to vote in Detroit, says she has been politically active for about four years. She watched Trump win the 2016 election and was upset because she wasn’t old enough to vote against him. 

“I can’t be the one complaining about something happening that I did not want to happen, because I can say that I did get out and vote and use my voice to do what I believe is right,” Mosby said.

For some, voting has always been important. Johari Franklin, a 20-year-old Detroit native and a senior at the University of Miami, is voting in a presidential election for the first time.

Johari Franklin (courtesy photo)

“I think I understood at a very young age, you have to be able to be the change you want to see in the world. And the way that the system works is you elect people to speak for you, and you cannot just allow anyone to speak for you,” Franklin said. 

Franklin, who is registered to vote in Detroit, says she’s excited to vote Trump out of office.

“The Trump administration in general is a huge problem for me. All their policies and the things that they’ve done the past four years have me angry on so many levels, not only just for immigrants, but for the working class, for people of color, for disabled people,” Franklin said. 

Like Sanders and Mosby, Franklin isn’t enthusiastic about the choice between two older white men, but she says she doesn’t want to dwell on Biden’s imperfections.  

“Everyone has their shortcomings in power and politics, but this isn’t just about us as Black people. This is about everyone’s future. So even if [Biden] isn’t perfect, he’s still a far better choice,” she said. 

Franklin thinks young people who choose not to vote aren’t considering how their decisions affect other people. 

“I definitely would say that’s a careless and miscalculated decision. I think they’re being very selfish. Because, again, this isn’t just about self, it’s about everyone else,” she said. 

Are you a younger voter? Have you voted before? Would you describe yourself as politically engaged?  Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @BridgeDet313 and subscribe for more election coverage like this!

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