Election guide: What’s happening in Michigan?
Your guide to the midterm elections in the Great Lakes State
- Voter makeup: Michigan does not require its 8.2 million voting residents to affiliate with a party, and any registered voter may cast a ballot in the primaries. Historically, it has been a swing state, but trends indicate it leans Democratic, though this varies drastically by geographic region. Former President Donald Trump won the state in 2016, but President Joe Biden won it by 2.8 percentage points in 2020. Michiganders say inflation and abortion are the most important issues for them in this cycle.
- Voting: Requests for no-excuse absentee ballots are allowed in Michigan up until the Friday before the election. As of September, election officials may start counting results from mail-in ballots two days before Election Day. By Nov. 1, 1.1 million absentee ballots had been received across the state.
- Fraud watch: A forensic audit conducted on the 2020 presidential election results found no widespread fraud but did lead to several recommendations on how to improve election security. An additional report by the auditor general in March found that less than 0.1 percent of the 5.5 million votes cast in 2020 were either duplicates or listed a deceased voter’s name. But auditors said the issue they found was due to sloppy records more than intentional fraud; most of the deceased voter ballots were cast before the individual died, or the individual shared a name with another voter and the rolls were not appropriately updated in time. Trump and Republican leaders claimed 18,000 “dead voters” cast ballots for Biden, but the Republican-led state Senate Oversight Committee found no such evidence. The report recommended updates to voter files and procedures. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson agreed to upgrade computer systems and implement new “reconciliation” steps to clean up voter rolls. Benson and the auditors also agreed that election officials need better training on how to conduct audits.
- Incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer moved from a career in the state legislature to the governor’s mansion in 2018 when she won 53.3 percent of the vote. This year, she is running for reelection and campaigning heavily on her record, a keystone of which has been bolstering the state’s infrastructure and famously poor roads. She has struggled to pass legislation with a Republican-led legislature but has touted rising job numbers in Michigan. She has also faced scrutiny for what Republicans called drastic lockdown orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whitmer is running on a pro-abortion platform and claimed she would “fight like hell” to keep it legal in the state. On education, Whitmer pushed for more funding to community colleges and used pandemic funds to bolster her education budget. As of Nov. 1, she leads aggregate polls by 5 points, but the margins have been narrowing.
- Republican challenger Tudor Dixon is billing herself as a working mom ready to govern the state. The former television news anchor had little name recognition until she snagged former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. In debates, Dixon attacked Whitmer for not opening up Michigan businesses and schools from COVID-19 lockdowns as early as other states did. Dixon said she is pro-life and would only approve an abortion exception if the life of the mother is at risk but not for rape or incest. Nevertheless, she said in the latest debate that if Michigan voters enshrine abortion access in a constitutional amendment on the ballot, she would uphold their wishes. Dixon has introduced a “Preserve Parents’ Rights” campaign and a plan to reduce personal income tax.
- Five write-in candidates for governor include: Kevin Hogan of the Green Party, Libertarian Mary Buzuma, Donna Brandenburg from the U.S. Taxpayers’ Party, Daryl Simpson from the Natural Law Party, and Independent Evan Space. None have received the minimum 10 percent of votes from polling to be included in debates.
- Dana Nessel is the Democratic incumbent arguing she’s the best pick for Michigan based on how she intends to fight for “voting, reproductive, and civil rights.” Although Nessel currently leads in the latest polls, this is the closest statewide race in Michigan. She has touted her record of investigating abuse allegations connected with clergy members and the Boy Scouts of America. As attorney general, Nessel also oversaw statewide crackdowns on spam calls and won a state Supreme Court ruling that included sexual orientation in Michigan civil rights law that protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex. During her term, the state has also been awarded $800 million in opioid settlements. Nessel is Jewish and the second openly lesbian attorney general in the U.S.
- Republican lawyer Matthew DePerno is challenging Nessel largely on an election security platform. According to his website, Trump-endorsed DePerno claims to have been “fighting against tyranny,” citing mask mandates and COVID-19 shutdowns. He spearheaded an audit in Antrim County, which Nessel’s office then investigated after claiming he illegally tampered with election equipment. DePerno says the criminal investigation is politically motivated, but Nessel has requested an independent special prosecutor if DePerno is charged to prevent a conflict of interest. If elected, DePerno has promised to lock up “the people who corrupted the 2020 election and allowed fraud to permeate the entire election system,” starting with Whitmer and Nessel. Trump held a rally in Michigan to stump for DePerno, after which the candidate soared in the polls to secure a statistical tie. DePerno has also promised to defend the state’s 1931 abortion law and suggested also banning Plan B contraceptives. Another one of his promised first actions would be to declare critical race theory unconstitutional in school curriculums.
- Two third-party candidates, Libertarian Joe McHugh and Gerald T. Van Sickle of the U.S. Taxpayers Party, are also on the ballot.
SECRETARY OF STATE
- Democrat Jocelyn Benson made national headlines in 2020 after former President Donald Trump condemned the incumbent secretary of state’s decision to use federal funds to send all Michiganders absentee ballot applications. Trump has claimed that this motivated more Democratic turnout and contributed to Biden’s electoral win. Benson, a longtime Democratic operative, has held the seat since 2017 and has said her main priority is to uphold the nonpartisan nature of the office and to ensure the security of elections. She has touted her accomplishments in cutting down on red tape, namely enforcing shorter wait times at branch offices.
- Kristina Karamo, a community college educator and podcast host, said her experience allegedly witnessing voter fraud as a Detroit poll challenger in 2020 prompted her desire to oust Benson. She said, if elected, she would open more branch offices, eliminate voluntary absentee ballot applications, and audit the state’s voter rolls. Karamo has refused invitations to debate Benson because the hosts would not include a Republican co-moderator. In late October, she joined a lawsuit filed against the city of Detroit that would overhaul how the city runs elections, specifically how it tallies absentee ballots. Only days out from the midterm election, the defendants asked to invalidate tens of thousands of absentee ballots they argue cannot be proven secure. In 2020, Karamo received a master’s degree in Christian apologetics from Biola University.
Proposal 1: Legislative term limits and financial disclosure amendment
This constitutional amendment would change State Legislature term limits to allow 12 combined years of service. The current constitution limits lawmakers to three two-year terms in the state House and two four-year terms in the state Senate for a total of 14 years. Proposal 1 would cut the limit by two years but allow a legislator to serve the entire time in one chamber if they wish. If approved, it would also require elected legislators and state executives to file annual financial disclosures.
Proposal 2: Voting policies in constitutional amendment
This would amend the state constitution by either creating new election and voting policies or enshrining existing statutes as constitutional law. The policies include: a nine-day early voting period, photo identification requirements at polls or absentee ballot requests or a signed affidavit, state-funded absentee ballot drop boxes, required counting of ballots cast overseas if they are postmarked by Election Day, and making election officials responsible for audits. The proposal includes language that prohibits “harassing, threatening, or intimidating conduct” toward election workers. Additionally, it would prohibit any laws or practices that are deemed to infringe, interfere with, or “burden” a right to vote.
Proposal 3: Right to reproductive freedom initiative
This amendment would make abortion a constitutional right in Michigan. It defines “reproductive freedom” as a right to make all choices about pregnancy. The language includes “abortion care.” The initiative does leave room for the state government to regulate abortion after a baby can survive outside the womb, which the state, following Roe v. Wade’s precedent, has historically determined to be 28 weeks of gestation. Opponents have criticized the bill for being too difficult to understand, and only a paragraph of it will be shown on ballots. Pro-abortion political action committees have raked in more than $45 million to promote the amendment. It would overrule a 1931 law that protects unborn babies and punishes abortionists with either a prison sentence or fines. The law was reinstated after the Supreme Court issued its Dobbs v. Jackson decision but has since been blocked pending legal challenges. Supporters say Proposition 3 would effectively “restore Roe in Michigan.”
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