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Michigan voters hold doubts Nov. 3 election will be 'fair,' Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll finds

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Michigan voters said they are confident their votes will be counted on the Nov. 3 Election Day but were less confident that the election will be “fair,” according to a new Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll. 

On a 1-to-10 scale, voters ranked their confidence high (8.7) that their vote will be counted, a trend tracked across all demographic groups in the poll of 600 likely Michigan voters that was conducted Sept. 1-3. 

Respondents took a bleaker view about the election's fairness, rating their confidence level at 6.6, with Democratic, independent and Republican voters equally skeptical that the election will be fair, pollster Richard Czuba said.

Bob Powell (right) of Rochester is handed his ballot by election worker Leela Nagarajan as Deepti Govil wears a face shield and confirms voter information at the 5th precinct at Rochester University on Tuesday, August 4, 2020.

"That's where we see the numbers begin to plummet, and they plummet among everybody," said Czuba of the Lansing-based Glengariff Group. 

"It's a huge concern when voters don't believe the election is fair. Part of the problem is everyone  — regardless of their political persuasion — is finding a reason to find the election unfair."

Voters under age 50 are less likely to believe the election will be fair than older voters, according to the survey, which had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

That isn't a good sign for the future of democracy when the youngest age bracket (18- to 29-year-olds) who are just becoming politically engaged are possibly having doubts about the election's outcome, Czuba said.

"I will throw a word of caution here. We didn't define 'fair.' And we didn't ask them what they meant. So everyone has a different opinion and a different feeling," he noted.

"But, yes, we're looking at numbers on fairness that certainly drop, even though voters think their vote is going to be counted."

Over 62% of respondents said they were "very confident" their vote would be counted, ranking that confidence at 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, according to the survey.

The high confidence that their votes will be counted is notable amid the country's extreme political divide and concerns about by the coronavirus pandemic that are expected to drive a record number of mail-in ballots in November.

About 29% of respondents pegged their confidence at 10 that the November election would be "fair." Roughly 38% indicated their doubts about fairness by rating their confidence at 5 or below on a scale of 1 to 10.  

"Between the pandemic limiting people’s ability to go to actual polling places safely and what has happened with Postal Service delays in recent months, I’m not sure it will be as fair as I’d like, but it is what it is," said Tyrus Eagle, an independent voter in Ypsilanti who works in park maintenance. 

Voters' skepticism about the election's fairness could be heightened due to the foreign interference in the 2016 presidential contest, which President Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed, said longtime Detroit political consultant Mario Morrow.

"We have Mr. Trump saying that was a fair election, but it's fact that Russians were involved, and he will not to this day say the Russians were involved," said Morrow, who has done consulting for both Democratic and GOP clients. 

"And now he's saying absentee or mail-in ballots are fraudulent. I think his delivery is drawing a great deal of confusion, and people are worried about his threats of sending in the National Guard to the polling places, telling people to vote twice, and things like that."

Trump, who has warned of a "rigged" election, is trying to sow doubt in the nation's election system and undermine the results in case the vote doesn't go his way, Morrow said.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the former vice president, has cautioned voters about possible skulduggery by his opponent and attempts to limit voting access in November. 

Republicans have sued election officials in several states attempting to expand mail-in voting amid the pandemic, claiming it could lead to voter fraud.

Election observers have also questioned the processes used in Detroit for last month's primary. Recorded ballot counts in 72% of Detroit's absentee voting precincts didn't match the number of ballots cast, spurring officials in Michigan's largest county to ask the state to investigate ahead of November.

GOP poll challengers also say election workers in Detroit's primary improperly altered some votes and counted thousands of absentee ballots without checks against voter lists, arguing Michigan's largest city isn't ready for the next election.

Election experts have also said that results of the November might be delayed as workers tally the results of a record number of mail-in ballots.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, who narrowly lost Michigan to Trump in 2016, has said Biden should not concede the election "under any circumstances." 

"I think this is going to drag out, and eventually I do believe he will win if we don't give an inch and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is," she told Showtime last month.

mburke@detroitnews.com