Dem voters show up as Michigan primary sets modern record
More Michigan voters cast ballots in Tuesday's election than in any gubernatorial primary in at least 40 years, setting a modern record for participation.
Unofficial results show voters in all 83 counties cast a combined 2,193,513 ballots, which was 29.7 percent of registered voters.
The vote totals are higher than any gubernatorial election since at least 1978, according to immediately available historical state data. Roughly 1.72 million voters cast ballots in 2002, which had been the high mark.
In 2010, the last year where voters decided contested primaries for an open gubernatorial seat, about 1.67 million voters cast ballots by 23.3 percent of the voting-age population.
"This will break recent records," Michigan Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said.
More voters — 140,410 — came to polls Tuesday and voted for the Democrat gubernatorial candidates than Republicans.
The record is a warning to Republicans, said Bill Ballenger, a former GOP lawmaker who now runs the Ballenger Report and has followed Michigan electoral trends for decades.
In 2010, Republicans had a 2-1 advantage over Democrats among those who voted in the prior record-setting primary, Ballenger said. The Michigan GOP went on to have a wave election that kicked Democrats out of office in congressional seats and the governor's office.
Democrats practically doubled their turnout from 2010, Ballenger said.
"I think it does bode well for the Democrats in November, " he said. "There could be a wave year for the Democrats in Michigan, if not nationally.”
Oakland County saw strong support for the Democratic candidates. About 50,000 more voters voted for those candidates than Republicans Tuesday. In Oakland County, 34 percent of registered voters came to the polls, compared to 27 percent in the 2010 primary.
In Macomb, slightly more voters — about 2,400 — also went with the Democratic gubernatorial candidates over Republicans. Overall county turnout was 29.9 percent Tuesday, up from 24.3 percent in 2010. Wayne County's turnout was up as well: 27 percent compared to 19 percent in 2010.
President Donald Trump is a driving force behind the uptick in Democratic participation, Ballenger said. Democrats not only intensely disapprove of the president, but they remain embarrassed that a decline in turnout contributed to Trump's 2016 victory in Michigan that broke a string of six consecutive Democratic presidential victories, he said.
In addition, the Republicans' total control of state government for the past eight years is fueling the Democratic surge, Ballenger said.
"The Republicans can’t afford to lose any enthusiasm," he said. "They have to turn out in November. If they don’t, they are going to get buried.”
Gubernatorial primary participation still pales in comparison with presidential primary elections. More than 2.5 million voters cast ballots in Michigan's 2016 presidential primary, according to state records.
Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett said Wednesday that the website problems had nothing to do with how votes were counted and defended the integrity of the numbers Tuesday.
"It is not relevant to the tabulation of the votes," Garrett said. "I just don’t want anyone to get cynical and think it’s something ... with the voting system."
Higher-than-expected turnout on Tuesday contributed to ballot shortages in several Oakland County communities, including Ferndale, Oak Park, Berkley and Farmington Hills.
Oakland County Clerk Director of Elections Joseph Rozell worked with local officials ahead of the election to estimate how many ballots they need based on 2010 primary numbers.
But early in the day, it was clear that turnout was going to be much higher. More than 5,000 extra ballots had to be delivered by the election office to about two dozen precincts.
Many precincts resorted to printing off extra ballots on site, which slowed the process.
“We’re still not sure what happened and hope to get some answers over the next couple weeks so it doesn’t happen again,” Rozell said. “A large turnout, insufficient training of workers and spoilage of ballots because voters were not reminded of what they could or not do with their ballots."
Ballots can be spoiled if voters "split" their ballot and select candidates in more than one political party.
“I believe the county did everything it was supposed to do and more,” he said. “I don’t see us having to change or modify our end at all.”
Rozell said the law says you should order up 25 percent more ballots than in your highest primary turnout.
“We padded that by 200-300 additional ballots,” he said. “That was sufficient in all but a handful of precincts. On July 31 we looked at absentee ballot numbers and reminded all the local clerks that numbers were unusually high and to plan accordingly."
Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman said ballot shortages their caused some to have to wait until 9:30 p.m. to vote.
”Some waited for two hours today and some probably left," Waterman said. "It’s not right. It’s tragic. You encourage people to vote. You do all you can to get them to the poll and participate in the process. Then you don’t have ballots?”
County Clerk Lisa Brown said Wednesday she believes the issue in Pontiac was spoiled ballots and a lack of voter education by poll workers, not high turnout.
Novi City Clerk Cortney Hanson said clerks across the county asked Brown's office for more ballots last week when demand for absentee ballots increased.
"I understand (the county clerk) doesn't want to waste ballots," Hanson said. "We know for the future we need to be better prepared.
"It's just a reminder to listen to the local clerks."
Novi had some of the highest turnout rates at polling places, including one precinct at 65 percent, the highest rate in the county. Several started running low on ballots before noon, Hanson said.
The shortages prompted the Michigan Secretary of State to publicly urge voters to stay in line if they had arrived at their precinct before the polls closed at 8 p.m. Voters cannot be turned away due to ballot shortages, the state said.