With the August primaries in the rearview mirror, Detroit is staring down the road to November and the general election which will have a major impact locally. And with just a few months to go there is a push to get more of the community involved in local politics. Some remain unconvinced and stand firm on not voting. But, despite that stance, organizations and individuals are still encouraging non-voters to make their voices heard.
Unlike national elections, local politics are a time to effect direct change in the community. However, for some, voting in this season’s general election is still up in the air. In the 2021 primaries, of the almost 500,000 registered voters in the city, just over 71,000 or 14 percent actually voted. The low turnout is part of why a major push to encourage more voters to reach the polls this November is on.
With many Detroiters unswayed by city politics, some are choosing to exercise their right to not vote. Unable to believe voting makes a true difference in the community, some non-voters remain unmoved in their stance. Feeling overlooked, the millennial generation is questioning candidates, the issues and their own say.
“Nobody is advocating for their votes or advocating for their issues,” says Brandon Dandridge, a Detroit resident. “My grandmother is a resident of the city and they [candidates] actively advocate for her vote, but not for my vote or someone in my demographic. It doesn’t reach us where we’re at and they don’t reach us on our issues.”
To counter this, voters in the city are doing their part by casting their votes in each election. Whether attributed to historical moments in Black history or preference, the decision to get involved in elections is personal.
“I vote just because I feel like I’m supposed to. It’s not because I feel like it’s making a difference or any of that. Maybe a guilty conscience makes me vote,” says Dandridge.
Local organizations are also pushing to encourage non-voters to get to the polls. Established more than 100 years ago, the League of Women Voters believes in educated and proactive involvement in all levels of government. The organization also brings awareness to major public policy issues and helps influence it with education and support.
“As the president of the League of Women Voters, [I am] encouraging everyone to get out to vote. We’re voting for mayor, city council and city clerk. It is important to vote in local elections because it directly affects your community. It affects your life. It could affect your grandchildren’s lives. That is why it’s essential to vote,” says Rhonda Craig, president of the Detroit chapter of the League of Women Voters.
Detroit Action is a local grassroots organization that works to change the narrative and numbers around poverty, justice and human development. With the primary numbers being low for the city, getting more involved in voting is pivotal for the people of Detroit. Despite targeting younger voters, there are other demographics that also need to be encouraged to vote.
“You have returning citizens who are eligible to vote who don’t know they can. We have elderly who can vote, but are tired of seeing no change. When we talk about driving more people to the polls, it has to be all-inclusive. It’s not just young people who are not getting to the polls. Young people actually are voting,” says Taylor Harrell, civic engagement manager at Detroit Action.
As elections come and go, many hold firm beliefs that dissuade voting. Millennials, while a large and continually growing demographic, account for some of the greatest numbers in general elections. Surpassing the Baby Boomer generation, this new age of votes is making its imprint on the polls. However, to push more people to vote, key issues with trust are being called into play. Transparency from each candidate is noted as being needed to flip non-voters into souls at the polls.
“We need to have more candidates that represent us and who we are and what we are striving to accomplish. I feel like a lot of times the people who are our representatives don’t necessarily have a connection with the residents. It’s more of a political connection,” says Dandridge. “Producing more changes … and embodying the community and its issues would appeal more to the community.”
For Detroit Action, going beyond the polls into the hearts and homes of city residents helps voting numbers. An organization that still believes in door-knocking, Detroit Action works on off-seasons to ensure the public is knowledgeable about the process, candidates and issues.
“With Detroit Action, and other organizations should jump on board with this, it’s about meeting people where they are. It’s not enough to simply tell people their vote is their voice, especially when talking to marginalized communities,” says Harrell. “If we continue to organize around issues and not rally behind a person based on political party affiliation, that’s what we can do [to increase voting numbers].”
Residents who are undecided on voting in this term’s general election have just a few weeks to make their final decision. The general elections will cover the mayor, city council and city clerk in Detroit. For those looking to register, the option is still available. Absentee ballots will be accepted for the general elections this coming November. More information can be found on the city’s website.