By Paul Rozycki
In a time of the COVID-19 virus, economic shutdowns, Black Lives Matter protests, and 500-year floods, it’s difficult to focus on something as routine as an August primary election. Even in “normal” times, the primary is often overshadowed by summer vacations, county fairs, and car cruises, and the turnout is usually low. But this August 4, voters will have opportunity to cast their ballots in what may be one of the most unusual and challenging elections that we have ever seen.
How this primary will be different
Unlike elections in past years, voters will need to decide how to vote in this year’s primary as they deal with face masks, social distancing, and the COVID-19 virus. Because of the COVID-19 threat, this year, all voters will have the opportunity to vote by mail, and applications for absentee ballots have been sent to all registered voters in the state. Voters can mail in or email the forms to receive an absentee ballot.
Most likely, we’ll see a record number of voters casting their ballots from home, and far fewer going to the polls. We are likely to see fewer polling places, and those that remain will likely be taking health precautions for both the workers and the voters. With the absentee vote, voters can cast their ballots early. Those who are not registered can register by mail before July 20, or can register in person on election-day. The details are available on the Vote411 website or the Michigan Secretary of State website.
The primary is the “real” election
With all the other events capturing the headlines, it’s easy to forget how important a primary election is. In most years, the turnout for Michigan’s August primary is rather low, around 20 percent, and many voters skip the chance to vote because “it’s only a primary,” on the assumption that the real election is in November. Yet, in reality, for most offices, the primary is the “real” election.
While the main purpose of a primary is to nominate candidates for your party, in most parts of Michigan (and the nation), one party tends to be dominant — due to both gerrymandering and the places we choose to live. In most of Genesee County, if you win the Democratic primary, you are usually assured victory in November. In other areas, like Lapeer County, the same thing is true for Republicans.
So if you care who wins, you should turn out for the primary — it’s often the most important election.
Who’s on the ballot?
In Genesee County, the August primary will give voters a chance to choose their party candidates for a number of offices. Voters will choose candidates for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, and the Michigan House of Representatives. In addition, they will also nominate for a long list of county offices, township offices, ballot proposals, and several city council races in Genesee County. For all of Genesee County, the list of candidates and offices is long — much too long to list every office and candidate here.
A complete list of the candidates and background information is available at the Genesee County Clerk’s website, or the League of Women Voter’s website, Vote411.org. At the League’s website, voters can type in their addresses and see a sample ballot. Similar information is available at the Michigan ivoterguide.com website. The Tom Sumner Program has interviewed most of the candidates, and the interviews are available on his website at tomsumnerprogram.com.
For the Flint area, some of the most significant races you will see on your ballot are as follows.
U.S. Senate: Democratic Senator Gary Peters is unopposed for his party nomination and Republican John James is unopposed for the Republican nomination. After James’ strong showing against Debbie Stabenow two years ago, this is expected to be a competitive race.
U.S. House of Representatives: 5th District (Genesee to Iosco County): Democratic incumbent Dan Kildee is unopposed for his party’s nomination, and Republicans Tim Kelly and Eric Lackie are competing to take him on in November.
State House of Representatives:
48th District (northern and northeastern Genesee County): Incumbent Democrat Sheryl Kennedy is in her first term and is facing a challenge from Andalib Odulate for the nomination. Republicans Sheri Cross and David Martin are competing for the Republican nomination. The winners will face each other in November in what is expected to be a competitive contest.
34th District (northern and eastern city of Flint): Incumbent Democrat Cynthia Neeley, who just won her seat in March, succeeding her husband Sheldon Neeley, who was elected mayor of Flint, is facing four challengers for her party nomination. Opposing her are DelTonya Burns, Claudia Perkins-Milton, Diana Phillips, and Arthur Woodson. Republican James Miraglia is unopposed.
50th District (Burton and Grand Blanc area): In one of the more unusual races in the area, Democratic incumbent Tim Sneller is facing Raymond Freiberger for their party’s nomination. Competing to oppose the Democratic nominee are three Republicans, Christina Fichett-Hickson, Lynne Freiberger, and Lynn Huckee. In what may be a first for Genesee County, Raymond and Lynne Freiberger are husband and wife, running in opposing parties for the same office. Politics may indeed “make strange bedfellows.”
49th District (Flint and Flushing townships and south central Flint city): Incumbent Democrat John Cherry is unopposed. Republican Bryan Lutz is also unopposed for his party’s nomination.
51st District (west and southwest Genesee County): Incumbent Mike Mueller is unopposed for the Republican nomination. Two Democrats, Brad May and Conner Wallace, are competing to run against Mueller in November.
County Sheriff: Incumbent Sheriff Chris Swanson faces two opponents for the Democratic nomination, Flint police chief Phil Hart, and Tim Johnson, who previously served as Flint police chief. Swanson was appointed sheriff when Robert Pickell retired earlier in the year. Stephen Sanford is unopposed for the Republican nomination.
County Prosecutor: Democrat incumbent David Leyton is facing a challenge from Trachelle Young. No Republican has filed to run.
County Clerk/Register of Deeds: Incumbent Democrat John Gleason is facing a challenge from Renee Watson. Republican Jesse Couch is unopposed, and will run against the Democratic winner in November.
County Treasurer: Both incumbent Democrat Deborah Cherry and Republican Deborah Hoss are unopposed and will face off in November.
Drain Commissioner: Incumbent Democrat Jeff Wright is facing a challenge from Travis Wines for their party’s nomination. No Republican has filed to run.
County Surveyor: Democrat incumbent Kim Carlson is unopposed for the nomination and no Republican has filed.
County Commissioners: All nine county commissioners are up this year. Of the nine, several include Flint-area neighborhoods.
In the 1st District (Mount Morris Township and north Flint), Democrat incumbent Bryant Nolden is unopposed and there is no Republican opponent.
The 2nd District (central and east Flint) has three Democrats running to replace Brenda Clack. They are Michael Clack, Corey Lockett, and Charles Winfrey. No Republican has filed.
In the 3rd District (Burton, east Flint, and parts of Genesee Township), incumbent Democrat Ellen Ellenburg and Republican Gary Goetzinger are both unopposed and will face off in the general election.
In the 4th District (southwest Flint and parts of Flint Township), Democrats Domonique Clemons and Donald Wright are running for their party’s nomination. No Republicans have filed.
Township officials: All Genesee County townships are electing officials in the August election. Candidate details are available at the Vote411.org website.
Circuit Court Judge (7th District, non-incumbent): Three candidates are competing for the non-partisan judicial position. They are Chris Christianson, Herman Marable, and Stephanie Witucki
District Court Judge (76th District, non-incumbent): Four candidates are competing for a six-year term. They are Heather Burnash, Glenn Cotton, Torchio Feaster, and Tabitha Marsh.
City Council: The city of Flushing will also be electing city council members.
Ballot Proposals: There are two countywide proposals on the August ballot. Voters will decide on a millage replacement proposal for the MTA, and millage renewal for Genesee County Animal Control.
In addition, Davison, Flint, and Montrose townships all have proposals on the ballot. The school districts of Atherton, Clio, Durand, Goodrich, and Lake Fenton also have proposals for the voters.
Take the time to vote
While there are many distractions this year, and it’s easy to dismiss the August election as “just a primary,” it is a very important election. This year, one of the advantages of easier absentee voting is that voters can receive ballots at home, take the time to study them, and check out the candidates and proposals as they keep social distance from the polling places.
Take the time to vote this August. It’s important and easier than ever.
EVM political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at email@example.com. Rozycki also is currently president of the EVM board.