Record-breaking turnout in Tuesday's election driven by contested races, Trump 'factor'

The record-breaking voter turnout for a Michigan August primary in Tuesday’s election likely was driven by increased social media focusing on politics, competitive races, and interest generated by President Donald Trump, according to some political experts.

And it may be a harbinger of things to come.

An estimated 2 million Michigan voters cast ballots on Tuesday, beating out a previous record in 2002.

In Macomb County, voter turnout was 29.9 percent, which was the highest number in recent elections, according to online records from the Macomb County Clerk’s Office.  In 2010, the turnout was 24.3 percent.

Some political analysts said the high number was, in part, due to the “Trump factor” even though the president wasn’t on the ballot.

“I think there was a lot more interest because of Trump, which generated more interest both positively and negatively,” said John Klemanski, a political science professor for Oakland University. “Plus, there was a number of races that were competitive with a lot of candidates. That speaks to an increased interest in government.”

Joe DiSano, a Democratic political consultant, agreed.

DiSano said the number of competitive races played a role, but so did “sporadic voters upset with the status quo. No one is safe from tens of thousands of angry voters lashing out. Even if that anger is misplaced in some cases.”

He added: “I think we will find the spike in turnout was fueled by women upset with the direction of the country. No politician is safe this November, especially Republicans. The smart ones will prepare and adapt. The slower ones will just lose.”

At the top of the ticket was an open governor’s seat with contested primaries in both parties, along with a controversial millage renewal for the Suburban Mobility Transportation Authority (SMART).

In Macomb County — long considered a bellwether county for politics — there were numerous contested races for the Michigan House of Representatives and Macomb County Board of Commissioners,, a bitter battle for a vacant Macomb County Clerk position, and a controversial road millage in Clinton Township. All of which played a role in the high turnout.

Macomb County has about 622,000 registered voters. County officials previously said the average turnout for primaries is between 18 and 20 percent.

Roseville City Clerk Richard Steenland said a five-person race for a judicial seat in 39th District Court, which handles cases for Fraser and Roseville, drew a lot of interest.

“Our numbers were definitely up compared to previous primaries,” he said. “The judge’s race and some of the county commissioner races that were contested sparked some a lot of attention. There was a lot of publicity as far as mailers raising awareness. The primary usually doesn’t get this much attention.”

The interest was also evident in the number of absentee ballots, traditionally submitted by senior citizens.

Clinton Township, for example, had more than 10,700 absentee voters this year, compared to an average of 5,000, said township Clerk Kim Meltzer.

“I think it’s coming from the president on down from both political parties. You have those who want to preserve things and those who want to see change, who may be more involved in the political process and are now using social media. The Democrats are still in disbelief they lost the 2016 presidential election. That’s probably a huge motivation.”

Both Clinton and Chesterfield townships encountered problems in tabulating the votes at the end of the night, which resulted in total results not being available until the early morning hours of Wednesday.

Chesterfield Clerk Cindy Berry couldn’t be reached for comment, but her township reportedly had issues with some of the voting machines.

In Clinton Township, it was a technology issue with the software. 

“The problem was we had trouble with the program to download the data from a flash drive into the program system, in order to email our numbers to the county,” Meltzer said. “We were done by 12:30 a.m. but then we ran into software issues. We couldn’t get the numbers to balance. I considered just driving them over to the county, but we kept thinking it was going to work. It was a technological issue we need to straighten out for the future.”

The previous record for voter turnout for an August primary election was in 2002 when 1.7 million voters cast ballots to select a successor to John Engler as governor. Democrat Jennifer Granholm won that contest over Republican Dick Posthumus to become the state’s first female governor.

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