February 25, 2009 at 1:02 am

Poll lines short with 15% turnout

No major problems reported as special election draws fraction of city's 626K voters.

Jennifer Lee, 25, casts her vote at Thirkell Elementary School. Turnout for the special mayoral primary was around 15 percent, according to election officials. City Clerk Janice Winfrey said Tuesday she was disappointed at the showing. (Ankur Dholakia / The Detroit News)

The stakes were high. The issues were plentiful. Interest? Not so much.

As officials feared, turnout was light throughout the Detroit's 600-plus polling places Tuesday. Roughly 15 percent of the city's 626,000 registered voters cast ballots during a special election that cost $2.36 million. That works out to about $25.13 for every vote.

"It's sad," said City Clerk Janice Winfrey, who had predicted turnout of 10 percent to 15 percent. "Anytime an individual chooses not to express themselves ... chooses not to participate in the Democratic process, it's sad.

"I can't fathom not voting and I don't really understand folks who don't."

The mood among voters vacillated from hope about the future to worry about the present. Some said they hoped to move from the city as soon as possible. Others believed new businesses are coming soon and neighborhoods will improve. Some promised to stick it out in the city, no matter what.

Jennifer Smith said the voting process took all of five minutes. It was a far cry, she said, from the 90 minutes she waited in line on the city's south side at Martin Luther King High School to cast her vote for Barack Obama. By the time she voted around 5 p.m., the polls had been open for nine hours. Poll workers had recorded 57 voters.

"Detroiters should have been out in record numbers," said Smith, 32, who voted for businessman Dave Bing. "I believe this election and the subsequent ones will be as momentous for our city as what happened in November."

She was encouraged that early returns indicated Bing would be among the top two finishers and advance to the May 5 general election. And she's confident Bing will become the next mayor.

"This is the first step in a two-part series," she said. "It's very encouraging. And hopefully when this thing wraps up, it will benefit all the citizens of the city and the region."

Nadine Rivers has spent all of her 55 years as a Detroit resident. She has confidence the city's fortunes will improve.

"I love this city. I believe we've got more in store for the future," said Rivers, who voted for Freman Hendrix.

Despite the turnout, elections officials reported no major issues. But it was quiet. The number of registered voters who actually cast ballots at the polls was 8.5 percent. More than 35,000 cast absentee ballots.

Voter total in Detroit for a special election for a City Council seat in March 2003 was 11 percent. Absentees made up 51 percent of the vote. In 2004, the primary election voter turnout was 22 percent. Voter turnout in November was 53 percent.

Laura Klein didn't think there should have even been an election Tuesday. She voted for Kenneth Cockrel Jr., who became mayor when Kwame Kilpatrick resigned, and believes he should be allowed to remain in the post through the regular election next year.

"Just give him a chance," said Klein, 25.

Staff Writers Christine MacDonald and Christine Ferretti contributed to this report. You can reach Steve Pardo at (734) 462-2191 or spardo@detnews.com">spardo@detnews.com.

Mayoral candidate Freman Hendrix, who finished in third place, talks with ... (Rob Widdis / Special to The Detroit News)
Workers count absentee ballots Tuesday in the Michigan Hall at Cobo Center. ... (Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News)
Candidate Dave Bing votes about 7:30 Tuesday morning at St. John ... (Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News)