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Low turnout expected for Detroit primary election

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  • Charles C. Primas
    Monday, August 3, 2009 Detroit primary election Low turnout expected for Detroit primary election Enthusiasm low for third Detroit election so far this year
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3, 2009
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      Monday, August 3, 2009

      Detroit primary election

      Low turnout expected for Detroit primary election

      Enthusiasm low for third Detroit election so far this year

      Darren A. Nichols and Leonard N. Fleming / The Detroit News

      Detroit --City voters will head to the polls Tuesday for the third time in six months. Reginald Jones won't.

      Like the vast majority of the city's 576,000 registered voters, Jones will stay home, rather than sift through 167 candidates for City Council, 44 for Charter Commission, 14 for Board of Education, six for mayor and three for clerk.

      "I don't see any hope, no truth," said Jones, 32. "I ran into a couple of the council candidates and I don't think they are ready for it. I'm going to see how this election turns out, then I might vote next time."

      He's not the only one waiting until the field narrows for the Nov. 3 general election. Most agree that voters are fatigued and frustrated after a year of scandals and elections, but whether it translates to throngs at the polls is up for debate.

      City officials estimate turnout of 15-20 percent, a prediction some consultants and campaigns feel is optimistic. Fifteen would match the May election that propelled Dave Bing to mayor, while 20 percent would be about average. Recent polls are less generous, with turnout forecast at less than 15 percent.

      "At the top of the ballot, there's no real synergy generated and generally that's what drives the turnout," said Daniel Baxter, the city's elections director.

      "The greater question is, can council candidates drive turnout? I don't know whether or not the public places a value on the legislative end of government. It's kind of a unique (territory) in terms of this primary election."

      Either way, turnout Tuesday in Detroit is expected to mirror that of the handful of suburbs that are voting for mayor or city commission. Clerks expect about 15 percent in Dearborn, Hamtramck and Sterling Heights, while Ecorse anticipates about 20 percent. Predictions weren't available for Mount Clemens.

      In Detroit, the top 18 council finishers will move on to the general election for the nine-member board. Two council members -- Sheila Cockrel and Barbara-Rose Collins -- aren't running for re-election, while Monica Conyers' re-election campaign ended after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribery and quit. Her name remains on the ballot and clerks will count her votes, but city rules are expected to bar her from re-election.

      James Canning, a political consultant, said voter anger will drive turnout. Residents are fed up over a series of controversies among council incumbents, including a recent Martha Reeves flier that listed the Motown singer's backup group, the Vandellas, as a running mate, he said.

      "Voters are finally going to turn out and have an outcry," said Canning, a former spokesman to ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, whose resignation and jail term last year necessitated the special election that made Bing mayor.

      "If they don't turn out, they know it'll be the same old names sitting around on the 13th (floor of City Hall)."

      Like others, Canning said incumbents could be in trouble. Sharon Morgan agrees.

      "I'd rather have Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck running. At least they are reliable. And they're dependable," Morgan said. "I don't have to worry about them lying, stealing and deceiving the public.

      "They need some fresh blood. They got too much old blood up there."

      But pollster Bernie Porn of Lansing said he expects turnout to be less than the 15 percent that participated in the two mayoral elections this year. Council candidate Jai-Lee Dearing's campaign agreed, initially predicting about 94,000 voters -- 15 percent -- but since revising estimates downward.

      "We've made sure to talk to people who are most likely to vote," Dearing campaign manager Michael Carroll said. "It's very important when you're talking about running in an election that's city-wide in a city that's 40 percent vacant to know who you're talking to, where they are and how you're getting to them."

      Officials have issued about 38,000 absentee ballots and about 25,000 have been returned, Baxter said. He's expecting another 7,000 to 10,000 before the primary.

      "It's just a lot of voting in one year. You just got through the whole election of Obama," said Jacob Walker, 34, who lives downtown and is planning to vote. "People kind of feel like it doesn't matter (and) 167 candidates at one time is a lot."

      Candidate James Tate is planning to man the top 100 polling places throughout the city and some other strategic high-voting locations. He wants to reach many of those voters who will make last-minute decisions.

      "A lot truly haven't made up their minds on (the candidates) they are going to vote for," Tate said. "When we start as a community not to take advantage of that right, what happens is we collectively keep getting us into a situation where you have individuals you may not want in office."

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      Charles C. Primas


      "Heaven never helps the man who will not act." -Sophocles
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