Primary voters head to Michigan polls amid crowded fields, pandemic changes

A primary election that has generated millions of dollars in fundraising appears primed for surprises Tuesday, including in some congressional races but mostly at the local level where races in Oakland and Macomb counties have been heated. 

Lea Nelson, a polling inspector at Henry Ford High School, sanitizes a table after a voter left.

In the early hours of voting, poll workers said turnout was even lighter than normal, likely due to coronavirus  fears.

Loretta Wade, working the precinct at Henry Ford High School, said they were taking the necessary precautions.

“Each precinct has a cleaning table with cleanser sanitizer wipes. The voters come here and fill out their application prior to getting their voting ballots,” Wade said. “Then after they are done, someone from each precinct wipes the table down with the wipes and the pen.” 

“They did what they were supposed to do, Spencer Young said as he was leaving the Horatio Williams Foundation voting location on the city’s east side.  “They had sanitation and everyone who was inside wore a mask.”

Deborah Holland, the precinct chair at Lakeside Assembly of God, said voter turn out was slow during the first half of the day.

“The turnout has been very light. We've had some people who have surrendered their absentee ballot so they could come in. But it’s gone well,” said Holland.

Anthony Vassar, a Detroit resident of the 13th congressional district, said the COVID sanitization precautions are good and he rated this year's experience just as good as the last time he voted.

“It was just as quick as the last time I voted,” said Vassar.  “I was the first person the last time and I’m the 10th this time.”

There was at least one delayed opening of a voting site due to few workers and others were short of staff. The Secretary of State's Office said it deployed 35 workers to Detroit to help with the shortages.

A spokesman said coronavirus concerns were mostly to blame.

Jo-Ann Hale, a poll worker at St. Thomas United Methodist Church, said not a lot of people had shown up, but she didn't think COVID has had a huge impact on the turnout.

 “The turnout is not going to be heavy until November and with COVID it may be a bit slower," Hale said.  

Hale, who has been working at polls since the '90s, said each precinct worker is responsible for sanitizing his or her voting station and utensils after each voter.

Candidates have had to figure out how to cope with less door knocking, fewer in-person fundraisers and an expansion of absentee voting, meaning the composition of Tuesday's electorate could look different than a traditional August primary. 

“Since this all began, I thought that this election will benefit people with established names and established fundraising bases,” said Joe DiSano, a Democrat and founder the Lansing-based political consulting firm DiSano Strategies. “Even established incumbent candidates are having a tough time raising money.”

In contested congressional races, the primary essentially decides the November winner among the Republican candidates in the 10th House District and the Democratic hopefuls in the 13th House District. The 10th district is reliably Republican and is selecting a replacement for retiring GOP U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell of Dryden, while the 13th district is overwhelmingly Democratic and pits Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones is a rematch with progressive U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit.

Sally Murad-Keybou of Rochester casts her ballot at precinct 31 at Rochester University on Tuesday, August 4, 2020.

Republicans are selecting candidates in Metro Detroit's 8th and 11th districts, where they hope to challenge first-term Democratic incumbents in November. The GOP also will select a candidate in West Michigan's 3rd District, which Democrats are hoping to flip after Libertarian U.S. Rep. Justin Amash decided not to run for re-election after flirting with a presidential bid. 

Oakland County will decide the Republican and Democratic candidates for executive, while Macomb, Wayne and Oakland counties feature contested primary races for prosecutor. 

DiSano, a Democratic consultant, and John Sellek, a Republican and CEO of Harbor Strategic Public Affairs, identified the Democratic primary for Oakland County executive as among the most interesting. The winner of the November general election will get a four-year term to replace GOP former Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who died in 2019. 

Crowded Republican primaries in the 8th and 11th congressional districts reflect the heightened competitions across the state, Sellek said. 

In the 8th District, four Republicans are vying to take on U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, in the fall. In the 11th District, five GOP hopefuls want to take on U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills. 

“People are energized to go out and run on both sides,” Sellek said. “We’re seeing a lot of primaries.”

Clerks will be in a race against the clock Tuesday as they process a record number of absentee ballots in what could be a small preview of November's mail-in voting hauls. 

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson warned the election results could be delayed by one to two days because of the increase in absentee ballots. She and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sent out a plea to state employees last week encouraging them to take a vacation day Tuesday to help at the polls. 

Bob Powell of Rochester wears his patriotic colors while voting at the 5th precinct at Rochester University on Tuesday, August 4, 2020.

Wayne County

Longtime Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy is facing perhaps her most serious re-election challenge in the Democratic primary from Victoria Burton-Harris, a self-described "people's lawyer" who has been endorsed by Democratic former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Burton-Harris said she is challenging Worthy in hopes of ending mass incarceration of African Americans and pursuing reform in the prosecution of Blacks in Wayne County. No Republican filed for the office, so the winner of Tuesday's contest is assured of election in November.

Worthy, who has been county prosecutor since 2004, said her office has been at the forefront of innovative crime-fighting programs and initiatives, including diversionary programs offered to 18,000 low-level defendants, mostly racial minorities, sparing them from incarceration through drug and other specialty courts. She has been endorsed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Spencer, 51, said Kym Worthy was his pick for the Wayne County prosecutor race because she has been around longer and seems to be “doing a decent job.”  

Wayne County has more than a dozen contested races for seats in the state House

In House District 3, Democratic former gubernatorial hopeful Shri Thanedar is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in hopes that his name familiarity can lead him to victory. Thanedar, 65, the scientist and businessman, has raised a record-breaking $438,620, primarily from his own wealth.

Among Thanedar's adversaries are union-backed Al Williams, 40, and 41-year-old student China Cochran — who finished second against term-limited Democratic state Rep. Wendell Byrd in 2016 and 2018, respectively. A criminal justice reform advocate, teacher and Lyft driver also are running. 

In House District 9, Democratic Party leaders are backing challenger and Detroit Action housing organizer Roslyn Ogburn against state Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, in part for her occasional votes with House Republican lawmakers and her praise of President Donald Trump for promoting the availability of hydroxychloroquine. 

Whitsett was invited to the White House in mid-April, where she talked about how the anti-malaria drug helped her recover from being infected by the virus.  The 13th Congressional District Democratic Party has since censured her and supported Ogburn.

Other open House seats in Wayne County will be decided in the primary because they are overwhelmingly Democratic. That includes Michigan House District 4, where 13 Democrats are running to fill the seat of state Rep. Isaac Robinson, a Detroit Democrat who died in March. 

A voter cast his ballots at Greater Emmanuel Institutional church this morning during primary voting in Detroit, Tuesday, August 4, 2020.

Oakland County

Oakland County voters will decide two of the state's most hotly contested races — for county executive and county treasurer.

In the Democratic primary for executive, interim Executive David Coulter is being challenged by Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner. Mike Kowall, a former state Senate majority floor leader and state representative, and Jeffrey Nutt, an attorney, will face off in the Republican race.

Democratic voters will decide between Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, who is seeking her fourth term, and Karen McDonald, a former Oakland County circuit judge who also worked as an assistant prosecutor for several years and is backed by the United Auto Workers union. The winner will face off in November against Lin Goetz, an unopposed Republican. 

McDonald argues the prosecutor's office needs reform to eliminate disparities that affect poor and nonwhite defendants, while Cooper says her primary opponent lacks the experience needed for the job.

Macomb County

Five Democrats and two Republicans are competing to replace former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, a Democrat who resigned March 30 after being charged with misusing $600,000 in forfeiture funds seized in drug and drunken driving cases between 2012 and 2018.

Republican voters will choose between state Sen. Peter Lucido and Richard John Goodman, who spent 30 years in the county prosecutor’s office, including heading the juvenile court division for five years.

The Democratic field includes two former judges, Mary Chrzanowski and Jodi Switalski, as well as former county commissioner Tom Rombach and attorneys Eva Tkaczyk and Saima Khalil.

Two state House incumbents are facing contested primaries in Macomb County

Republican State Rep. Steve Marino of Harrison Township and Democratic State Rep. Kevin Hertel of St. Clair Shores are facing challenges as they both seek a third and final term. 

In House District 24, Marino is being challenged former Macomb County Commissioner William Revoir of Clinton Township.

In the 18th House District, Hertel is facing Democratic challengers Patrick Biange and Christopher Jeffery.

3rd Congressional District

In the 3rd Congressional District, five Republicans are vying to replace Amash, a former Republican who feuded with President Donald Trump and defected to the Libertarian Party. 

In the GOP field is Peter Meijer, a Grand Rapids military veteran and grandson of the Meijer supermarket chair founder; state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis of Grand Rapids Township; former Sand Lake Trustee Tom Norton; attorney Emily Rafi, a Battle Creek native; and Lyons bar owner Joe Farrington.

The eventual Republican nominee will run against Grand Rapids attorney Hillary Scholten, a Democrat. 

Meijer and Afendoulis are considered front runners in the Republican primary for the district, which features a large region of West Michigan including parts of Kent, Calhoun, Ionia and Barry counties. 

8th District

In the 8th District, the Republican candidates are Howell real estate agent Mike Detmer, former TV anchor and prosecutor Paul Junge of Brighton, lawyer Kristina Lyke of Fowlerville and Marine veteran Alan Hoover of Ortonville. 

The district, which encompasses Ingham and Livingston counties and part of Oakland County has become n considered a swing district, with the most recent example being Slotkin's successful win over Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop in 2018.  

10th District

In the Republican-leaning 10th District, Bruce Township businesswoman LIsa McClain and current state Rep. Shane Hernandez of Port Huron appear to be front runners in a race that's featured increasingly aggressive attack ads. 

McClain is senior vice president for Hantz Group, and Hernandez is the chairman for the House Appropriations Committee. They're running to replace U.S. Rep Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, who has decided against running for reelection after serving two terms in Congress.

Doug "Odie" Slocum, a former commander at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base, also is running in the Republican primary for the 10th District, which encompasses most of the Thumb and portions of Macomb County. 

Kimberly Bizon of Lexington and Kelly Noland of Chesterfield are in Democratic primary. 

11th District

In the 11th congressional district primary, five Republicans are vying for the right to face first-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens in a contest they hope to turn the district back to the red.

Former U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Milford, who held the seat in 2013-2014, is among the candidates who include lawyer and former emergency room nurse Eric Esshaki, arts foundation owner Carmelita Greco, Army veteran and longtime salesman Frank Acosta and Whittney Williams, a former marketing specialist for the auto industry and GOP committewoman. 

13th District 

The 13th district might be the most closely watched in Michigan because of Tlaib's national profile as a member of so-called squad of progressive freshmen women who have clashed with President Donald Trump.

The contest is a bitter rematch between Tlaib and Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, who ran against one another in the 2018 primary. 

Jones, 60, has accused the incumbent of not adequately representing the needs of the country's third poorest congressional district, which includes parts of Detroit and Wayne County, and paying too much attention to national issues. 

Tlaib, 44, and her supporters have aggressively countered by noting her creation of four community service centers that have returned over $925,000 to residents and her advocacy on issues such as auto insurance rates, utility shut-offs and environmental justice.

Tlaib has gone after Jones for not living in the district, though she’s not required to to qualify as a candidate.

Unions are largely backing Tlaib as well as local and national environmental, progressive and anti-poverty groups, the Wayne County Democratic Black Caucus, the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party organization and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Jones has the endorsements of several prominent black clergy leaders, including the Rev. Wendell Anthony, head of the Detroit NAACP. She also has the backing of the state Democratic Party Black Caucus and the other Democratic primary rivals from 2018.

Staff Writers Melissa Nann Burke, Leonard N. Fleming and Christine Ferretti contributed

Election reminders

  • This close to the primary, individuals hoping to vote by mail should not mail in their ballots. Instead, they can be dropped off at an individual’s local clerk’s office or the dropbox, if available, in a voter’s jurisdiction. A list of dropbox locations is available here.
  • Absentee ballots must be returned before 8 p.m. Tuesday to be counted. The voter’s signature must be on the outside envelope and match the voter’s signature on file. 
  • Polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for in-person voting.
  • Bring a photo ID or, lacking one, be prepared to sign an affidavit verifying your identity. 
  • In many precincts, individuals voting in person should be prepared for social distancing in line, spaced voting booths, frequent disinfecting and other safety protocols. 
  • Wearing a mask at the voting precincts is not required by law but is recommended.
  • Unregistered voters are allowed to register before or on Election Day at their local clerk’s office with proof of residency. An individual registering the day of the election will be issued an absentee ballot to be filled out at the clerk’s office.
  • Since Tuesday is a primary election, individuals voting by mail or in-person can mark selections for only one party.  Ballots with a crossover vote — a ballot in which the voter chooses candidates from both parties — will not be counted.