Primary night in Metro Detroit: Proposal P fails, Duggan sails and write-ins struggle

Correction: Alexis Wiley is Mayor Mike Duggan's former chief of staff, and is managing his campaign.

Detroit — The most controversial of questions put before voters — whether Detroit should revise its charter — was soundly defeated Tuesday night. 

Two in three city voters in unofficial returns rejected the changes.

The initiative was crafted over three years by an elected nine-member Detroit Charter Revision Commission with support from a coalition of environmental and human rights groups. The commission and coalitions that support it contended the plan refocused city government with a greater emphasis on quality of life issues including affordable water and transit, increased oversight and policing reforms.

MORE: Get primary election results

But opponents, including Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's administration, argued some provisions would create legal and operational challenges, and confusion among residents. They contended the costs associated with implementing the recommendations would send the city back into bankruptcy. 

“There’s no doubt Proposal P would have put this city in a financial crisis, no matter who was the mayor,” said Duggan, also thanking the Rev. Horace Sheffield, who filed suit against the proposal in court.

Duggan, meanwhile, sailed through the primary Tuesday with 72.5% of the vote in unofficial results. Challenger Anthony Adams was a distant second with 10%, a margin Duggan's former chief of staff Alexis Wiley called historic. 

The top two finishers head to November's general election.

Meanwhile, Metro Detroit voters showed up at the polls Tuesday in modest numbers as residents in communities cast ballots to help determine whether there would be historic firsts in the fall elections. 

State Rep. Douglas Wozniak of Shelby Township won the GOP primary in a special election to decide a Republican-leaning state Senate seat for Macomb County.

He overtook state Rep. Pamela Hornberger and five other candidates to face off against Democrat Martin Robert Genter in November. Genter of Harrison Township won 70.5% of the vote against challenger John Bill of Rochester Hills.

The 8th District seat is open after former Sen. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, was elected Macomb County's prosecutor in November. The winner of the GOP primary in the special election will be the favorite to claim Lucido's seat in November.

In 2018, Lucido prevailed with 62% of the vote, defeating Democrat Paul Francis by 24 percentage points. The district includes Mount Clemens, St. Clair Shores, Harrison Township, Shelby Township and Washington Township.

Other key races to be decided included ones in Dearborn, where voters were cutting down a crowded field of 18 candidates for City Council in races to determine whether the panel will remain majority Arab American. Voters were also narrowing down mayoral candidates from seven to two. Three of them, if elected in November, would be the first Arab American to hold the job; two would be the first woman.

State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud won the Dearborn mayoral primary with 42% of the vote with all precincts reporting. Gary Woronchak, a former state representative and Wayne County Commissioner, ended up taking second place, winning 18.5%. They'll face each other in November. 

"I’m honored and humbled with today’s victory, and I will work just as hard to earn everyone’s vote in the general election this November," Hammoud said in a statement. "We need a mayor who will put our working families first and tackle the tough issues, like lowering property taxes, stopping speeding and reckless driving in our neighborhoods, and fixing our crumbling infrastructure."

Those voting in person Tuesday joined 250,000 voters who have already spoken via absentee ballots, including 43,000 voters in Detroit, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Tuesday afternoon. 

"This option is extremely popular," Benson said of absentee voting after casting her vote at Louis Pasteur Elementary School on Detroit's northwest side.

Benson herself had requested an absentee ballot, but spoiled it and requested a new one Tuesday at the polling site. In November, still in the thick of the pandemic, the Democratic secretary of state dropped her absentee ballot off on Election Day at a drop box. 

In all, 393 Michigan communities had elections on Tuesday, Benson said. The turnout specifically in Detroit was "on par" with expectations, she said.

Due to lower voter demand relative to the 2020 election, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said the city put out 20 drop boxes this year compared with 30 in the November election last year.

Elsewhere, some communities, such as Warren, didn't even have anyone on the ballot — just millage renewal requests. Others, such as Detroit, Pontiac, Sterling Heights and Taylor, decided who will appear on November mayoral ballots.

More:High stakes contests in Metro Detroit. Here are primary races to watch

Local clerks and political experts indicated many voters took advantage of Michigan's no reason absentee ballot policy and casting their ballots ahead of time, instead of voting in person.

Willie Mayes, 67, of Detroit, prepares to insert his ballot in the vote tabulator after voting at Detroit Service Learning Academy on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021.

Voting appeared to be sparse Tuesday in several Detroit precincts throughout much of the day.

Some of that appeared due to some voters unknowingly being assigned new polling places. They learned, sometimes by accident and sometimes late, that they would not be able to vote where they intended.

“It was outrageous that we weren’t notified until yesterday that our polling place changed," said Denise Griebler, a resident of Southwest Detroit.

She blamed the city clerk for the problems. “With all this conversation about having free and fair elections, I think having a (city) clerk that we can count on, that has integrity, is really important.”

Winfrey, who won her primary content Tuesday, rebuked claims Tuesday that voters had not been adequately notified of their shifted polling places, which she said happened because some were flooded in a July storm. She said she hosted a press conference, sent letters, posted signs and had people standing at the closed polling places to tell voters where to go.

Laz Thigpen, chairman of the precinct voting at the Durfee Innovation Society, said he learned his polling location changed on Tuesday morning. "It's the slowest turnout we've had in recent history," Thigpen said. "I think it's because a lot of people were having miscommunications, a lot of precincts got switched."

Only one person on his team got a letter telling them the location had switched, he said. Thigpen estimated that the last time he worked a primary election, 115 people showed up; he had only seen 30 with two hours before the polls closed Tuesday.

A handful of voters showed up at the Detroit Service Learning Academy on Seven Mile on the city's northwest side.

Those who cast ballots said Proposal P prompted them to head to the polls.

“The biggest issue was Proposal P; I had to vote no on that," said Robert Plant, 70. "(The proposal calls for) all these changes, but there’s no need to for all that."

But Willie Mayes, 67, said he supported Proposal P because "some people worked all their lives and never got what government owes them."

"The people who are against (the proposal) lived most of their lives not worrying where their next check was coming from," Mayes said. "They may have PhDs, 501(c)3s, but they don’t know what it’s like for the little guy who’s had his pensions pilfered or squandered by politicians.”

Proposal P also motivated voters who showed up at the polling station at the Academy of the Americas on the city's west side.

Bill Wylie-Kellermann, 72, a retired United Methodist pastor, community activist and educator, said the issue “really represents a process that's been very democratic, with hundreds of meetings over several years, of people participating on a range of issues.”

“Water affordability is an important one that we've been involved in, the water struggle," he said. "Housing issues that are there. Election integrity, police integrity … the reparations element both in terms of African Americans and in terms of folks who were so fraudulently screwed on on taxes.”

Winfrey anticipated a 13% to 18% turnout for the primary — about the same or slightly more than the 14% participation in the August 2017 primary. The city's website put the turnout at about 11% as of 11 p.m. Tuesday.

In Taylor and Pontiac, incumbent mayors hoped write-in campaigns would put them back on ballots in the fall, but those efforts appeared to be doomed late Tuesday night.

If he won all of the unassigned write-in votes, Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars received fewer votes than state Rep. Alex Garza, City Council Chairman Tim Woolley and Jeff Jones, a pastor. 

Voters ultimately chose Garza and Woolley for the November ballot. Garza, a second-term state lawmaker, won the primary in unofficial results with 35.5% of the vote, followed by Woolley with 22.1%, according to unofficial results released by the Taylor Clerk's office. Jones was third with 21.8.%.

About 20.7% of early votes were labeled "write-in."

Sollars, who is under indictment for federal bribery and wire fraud charges, was forced to wage a write-in campaign after failing to file campaign finance reports and pay fines prior to filing for reelection. He lost a court fight with the city clerk to get his name on the ballot.

Jennifer Johnson,61, of Detroit cast her votes inside the Detroit Service Learning Academy this morning.

With all precincts reporting in Pontiac, former Oakland County Commissioner Tim Greimel led with 56.3% of the vote. Alexandria T. Riley, the city's former chief development officer, had about 22.6% of the vote.

"We think tonight's results indicate Pontiac residents are very eager for positive change in the community," Greimel said.

That meant Deirdre Waterman, the city's first female mayor, likely did not succeed in getting on the November ballot through a write-in campaign. Waterman was disqualified from the ballot after she failed to file campaign finance reports on time.

Unassigned write-ins, including those for Waterman, made up 12.4% of the vote. That came as the Oakland County clerk's office said it will be later reporting "unassigned write-in votes," and the specific total for Waterman isn't likely to be known until the Board of County Canvassers meets Wednesday morning.

Michigan State Police are investigating her filings, which included a signed affidavit asserting she had no outstanding fees. State law says that candidates determined to file false or inaccurate statements on their affidavits must have their name left off the ballot. They're also at risk of a felony punishable by a fine of $1,000 and five years in prison.

In Sterling Heights, it was difficult to gauge voter participation because the Macomb County city didn't have competitive primary elections in 2017 and 2019. Absentee ballots were up overall compared with prior years, and turnout was light compared with general elections, Sterling Heights spokeswoman Melanie Davis said.

In the Sterling Heights mayoral race, incumbent Mayor Michael C. Taylor had 62.6% of the vote Tuesday night with all precincts reporting. Ken Nelson, a former councilman and a semi-retired real estate broker, got 32.8% of the vote, knocking opponent Charles Jefferson off the November ballot.

Voter Maryna Pitsenko said it was important to come out in person and vote on Tuesday in Sterling Heights, especially those who can make it to the polls.

“It’s everyone’s duty to do it,” Pitsenko said.

Staff Writers James David Dickson, Hani Barghouthi, Jennifer Chambers and Carol Thompson contributed.