Detroit sees uptick of absentee ballots ahead of primary, but Black voters are still wary of voting by mail

Aug 3, 2020 at 2:24 pm
click to enlarge Detroit sees uptick of absentee ballots ahead of primary, but Black voters are still wary of voting by mail
Rob Crandall /

There's no question that Detroit will likely play an important role come the November presidential election, seeing that President Donald Trump narrowly won in Michigan by just 10,000 votes over Hillary Clinton, due in part to a low turnout by Black voters.

But 2020 is shaping up to be different. The Secretary of State’s Office reports it issued 1.7 million absentee ballots for Tuesday's primary, compared to 475,000 in 2016. Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey says the city has received more than 90,000 requests for absentee ballots, NBC News reports, making it the most the city has ever received for any election.

This isn't the first evidence of a potential uptick in Black voter turnout.

Following the 2016 presidential election, Black voters in Wayne County showed up to vote in the 2018 midterm election, in a staggering increase from 38% in 2014 to 54%. A recent Washington Post-Ipsos poll reported “strong interest” in the upcoming election among Black voters, “with nearly 3 in 4” Black adults claiming they are “absolutely certain to vote,” many of whom cite racism and police brutality as key issues.

Despite these hopeful projections, many voters are wary of the mail-in ballot system, especially Black voters, who have endured systemic voter suppression for years. There is concern that voters who distrust the mail-in ballots may also skip out on in-person voting due to the surging coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted the Black community in Detroit and throughout the country.

Confusion and frustration clouds the mail-in ballot process, as well. According to an NPR report, of the primary elections already held this year, “at least 65,000 absentee or mail-in ballots have been rejected” often because they arrived past the deadline, and many cities are seeing delays in mail service. The report also finds that young Black and Latino voters are more likely to have their ballots rejected due to errors. Another reason ballots may get tossed is because of mismatched signatures.

Last week, Trump doubled-down on his unfounded belief that mail-in voting is a “fraudulent” practice that will significantly benefit Democrats and went as far as to suggest delaying the November election, which he does not have the authority to do under federal law. In May, Trump falsely claimed Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson had been mailing absentee ballots to all 7.7 million active voters in the state, when in fact she had sent out applications for those requesting an absentee ballot. Though Trump corrected himself in a tweet, he threatened to withhold funding for Michigan should “they want to go down this voter fraud path.”

Benson has urged Michigan voters to "immediately" mail in their ballots to ensure they are counted, and reminded that voters can also take ballots to an official ballot dropbox or to your local clerk’s office. Polling places will also be open for in-person voting on Tuesday.

"Voting in person for tomorrow’s #AugustPrimary will be safe and secure,” Benson tweeted Monday. “Our team @MichSoS continues to deliver PPE —including face masks, sneeze guards, gloves, hand sanitizer and more — to jurisdictions in every corner of the state. Remember to #WearAMask if you vote in person!”

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