Record 2.5M turnout for Michigan primary

Joel Kurth, Kim Kozlowski, Chad Livengood and Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Voters went to the polls in numbers unseen in decades on Tuesday, propelled by warm weather and a national focus on Michigan's Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

A record-setting 2.5 million people voted with 99 percent of precincts reporting – shattering the previous two-party primary record of 1.93 million set in the 1972 primary. That was the year segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace won the Democratic primary with a record 809,239 votes in a seven-man race that generated more than 1.58 million voters.

The turnout far exceeded state election officials' 2 million-vote turnout projection.

Tuesday's Republican primary attracted a record 1.3 million voters, surpassing the previous record of 1.27 million votes cast in the 2000 primary between Arizona Sen. John McCain and then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders upset former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, capturing 50 percent of the of the 1.1 million votes.

In the fractious Republican field, billionaire Donald Trump cruised to a double-digit victory over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Trump captured about 36.5 percent of vote, while Cruz edged out Kasich for second place, 24.9 percent to 24.3 percent.

The 2.5 million of Michigan’s 7.4 million voters would translate to 34 percent turnout, up from 19.7 percent in 2012 and the highest since before 1980, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Returned absentee ballots alone increased 32 percent to 434,438 since 2012, state records show.

Michigan primary results - The Detroit News

One Redford Township precinct stayed open until 9 p.m. — an hour after polls were to close — because there weren’t enough ballots.

“It was just astronomical demand,” said Jack Zatirka, chairman of Redford’s Precinct 25, at Vandenberg School. “It’s a good problem but people aren’t always patient with that.”

The precinct began the day with 300 ballots, then added another 200 as voters cast ballots throughout the day. By 6:50 pm, the precinct ran out of ballots for 30 minutes. People were lined up, spilling outside the gymnasium and into a parking lot, Zatirka said. By day’s end, 700 had voted.

2016 presidential primary delegate tracker

In Detroit, about 20 percent of voters participated, up from 8 percent in 2012 and 14 percent in 2008, said Daniel Baxter, the city’s elections director.

He attributed the increase to national attention on the primary, including the Democratic debate in Flint and the Republican one in Detroit.

Temperatures that topped 70 degrees on Tuesday also helped, Baxter said.

“We got a pretty decent spike this year,” he said. “I dare say, while out at the precincts, I saw more young folks at the polls than I’ve seen in a long time.”

In Oakland County, about 39 percent of the county’s 926,000 registered voters cast ballots. Officials had expected about 25 percent.

“There was a lot of excitement with the candidates coming to Michigan for debates,” said Lisa Brown, the county’s clerk. “That generates more voting interest.”

In Birmingham, Kenneth Harris said voting is a duty. “I take the right to vote very seriously,” he said. “And the privilege, as well.”