Author Archives: Elaina Rose Rahrig

Detroit Free Press – A Free Press campaign to boost voter turnout this August

Link to article on DFP website: A Free Press campaign to boost voter turnout this August

10-5-1: A Free Press campaign to boost voter turnout this August

Free Press sports writer Vince Ellis, Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch discuss Jaren Jackson Jr., Miles Bridges role in NBA, May 17, 2018.Vince Ellis, Detroit Free Press


Everywhere you go, people are talking about this November’s midterm election.

But for the majority of Michigan voters who reside in congressional and legislative districts stacked decisively in favor of one party, November may be too late to play a meaningful role in deciding who’ll represent them in Washington and Lansing.

For those voters, the more important election will take place Aug. 7, when a small subset of those who cast ballots in the November election will choose the Republican and Democratic nominees for Congress, governor and the state Legislature.

In Democratic-leaning districts, the candidates who win the August Democratic primary will likely coast to easy victories in November. In the majority of congressional and legislative districts drawn to favor Republicans, GOP primary winners will make similarly short work of their general election opponents.

One of the most egregious examples of this phenomenon will play out in the heavily Democratic 13th Congressional District, where nine Democrats and one Republican are vying to succeed U.S. Rep. John Conyers ( D-Detroit).

Whoever wins the Aug. 7 Democratic primary will likely go on to win the Nov. 6 election with 75% or more the vote. David Dudenhoefer, the lone Republican candidate, will be lucky to capture 20%.

Republican candidates hold a lesser but still prohibitive advantage in most of Michigan’s other congressional districts. Only three or four of the state’s 14 congressional elections, and perhaps a fifth of its 148 legislative contests, are likely to be competitive in November.

In all the rest, whoever prevails in the dominant party’s August primary is a virtual lock to be sworn in next January.

Brian Dickerson: Confessions of a recovering elitist

Left with the dregs

If you were invited to a smorgasbord and warned you that only one or two entrees would remain available after the first hour, you’d make it a point to be there when the doors opened.

Yet if history is any guide, only about one in five adults eligible to vote in the Aug. 7 primary election will do so, even though their choices will be greatly diminished thereafter.

In the last 10 election cycles, voter turnout in the August primary has exceeded 20% only once — in 2002, when 23% of the electorate picked Jennifer Granholm and Dick Posthumous to head their parties’ tickets.

Four years later, less than 17% turned out for the August primary.

That makes no sense — and no government by, for and of the people can last very long if more than 80% of the people opt to watch from the bleachers.

So we’ve resolved to do something about it, right now: And with your help, the Free Press is determined to boost participation in this year’s primary to record levels.


We know persuading Free Press readers to vote in August won’t make much difference — because people who stay abreast of the news are already the most likely to vote. You’re the backbone of the engaged minority who can be depended on to cast their ballots in election after election.

But we also know that nothing is more effective at turning non-voters into voters than a personal appeal made by someone they know.

And that’s where you come in.


If you think representative government is something worth saving and strengthening, we’re asking each of you to take the 10-5-1 pledge:

By July 1: Send emails or postcards to 10 family members, friends, or acquaintances you suspect aren’t planning to vote in the primary election, inviting them to join you at the polls Aug. 7.

By Aug. 1: Have phone or face-to-face conversations with at least 5 of those you contacted, renewing your invitation to vote.

On or before Aug. 7: Take one of the people you contacted with you when you go to cast your own vote or absentee ballot.

Between now and Aug. 7, the Free Press will provide information to make your recruiting efforts more effective and your vote better informed:

• We’ll suggest ways to approach fair-weather voters in your circle, explain how they can find out whether they’re registered to vote and how to register if they’re not.

• We’ll provide detailed information about the most important races, focusing on those in which the primary victor is all but certain to win the November general election.

• We’ll highlight what other groups are doing to register, engage and mobilize primary voters, calling attention to special events for those planning to participate in the primary.

• We’ll provide tools to assist readers in recruiting friends and family members for the big vote.

And maybe, after the primary ballots are counted August 7, we’ll awake to something that looks less like a failed experiment in self-governance and more like the sort of representative democracy our state can take pride in.

Who can vote in Michigan’s Aug.7 primary?

You are eligible to vote in Michigan’s Aug, 7, 2018 primary election if: 

• You are a U.S. citizen

• You will be at least 18 years old by Aug. 7, 2018

• You are a resident of Michigan

• You are resident of the city or township where you are applying to register to vote

• You are registered to vote on or before Monday, July 9

• You are not currently in jail or prison for a crime of which you have been convicted

Key dates on the road to Aug. 7 primary

June 4: Secretary of State certifies candidates for August primary election

June 23: Secretary of State mails absentee ballots to military and overseas voters

June 25: Absentee ballots available from city, township election clerks

July 9: Last day to register to vote in Aug. 7 primary

Aug. 4: Last day to request absentee ballot by mail


Can your organization help?

Is your organization planning an event to register Aug. 7 primary voters, or help eligible voters cast ballots? Send an email to and include #primariesmatter in the subject line, and we’ll help publicize your event.

New York Times – “Vote. That’s Just What They Don’t Want You to Do.”

by Lauren Simkin Berke

This is part of a series on voting in America, which will run up to Election Day in November. For Part 2, on a court case over a Kansas voter registration law, go here. And for Part 3, on the Supreme Court and racially discriminatory voting laws, go here.

This is a fragile moment for the nation. The integrity of democratic institutions is under assault from without and within, and basic standards of honesty and decency in public life are corroding. If you are horrified at what is happening in Washington and in many states, you can march in the streets, you can go to town halls and demand more from your representatives, you can share the latest outrageous news on your social media feed — all worthwhile activities. But none of it matters if you don’t go out and vote.

It’s a perennial conundrum for the world’s oldest democracy: Why do so many Americans fail to go to the polls? Some abstainers think that they’re registering a protest against the awful choices. They’re fooling themselves. Nonvoters aren’t protesting anything; they’re just putting their lives and futures in the hands of the people who probably don’t want them to vote. We’ve seen recently what can happen when people choose instead to take their protest to the ballot box. We saw it in Virginia in November. We saw it, to our astonishment, in Alabama in December. We may see it this week in western Pennsylvania. Voting matters.

Casting a ballot is the best opportunity most of us will ever get to have a say in who will represent us, what issues they will address and how they will spend our money. The right to vote is so basic, President Lyndon Johnson said in 1965, that without it “all others are meaningless.”

And yet every election, tens of millions of Americans stay home. Studies of turnout among developed nations consistently rank the United States near the bottom. In the most recent midterms, in 2014, less than 37 percent of eligible voters went to the polls — the lowest turnout in more than 70 years. In 2016, 102 million people didn’t vote, far more than voted for any single candidate.

The problem isn’t just apathy, of course. Keeping people from voting has been an American tradition from the nation’s earliest days, when the franchise was restricted to white male landowners. It took a civil war, constitutional amendments, violently suppressed activism against discrimination and a federal act enforcing the guarantees of those amendments to extend this basic right to every adult. With each expansion of voting rights, the nation inched closer to being a truly representative democracy. Today, only one group of Americans may be legally barred from voting — those with felony records, a cruel and pointless restrictionthat disproportionately silences people of color.

In the months leading up to the midterm elections on Nov. 6, when the House, Senate and statehouses around the country are up for grabs, the editorial board will explore the complicated question of why Americans don’t vote, and what can be done to overcome the problem. The explanations fall into three broad categories.

SUPPRESSION A 96-year-old woman in Tennessee was denied a voter-ID card despite presenting four forms of identification, including her birth certificate. A World War II veteran was turned away in Ohio because his Department of Veterans Affairs photo ID didn’t include his address. Andrea Anthony, a 37-year-old black woman from Wisconsin who had voted in every major election since she was 18, couldn’t vote in 2016because she had lost her driver’s license a few days before.

Stories like these are distressingly familiar, as more and more states pass laws that make voting harder for certain groups of voters, usually minorities, but also poor people, students and the elderly. They require forms of photo identification that minorities are much less likely to have or be able to get — purportedly to reduce fraud, of which there is virtually no evidence. They eliminate same-day registration, close polling stations in minority areas and cut back early-voting hours and Sunday voting.

These new laws may not be as explicitly discriminatory as the poll taxes or literacy tests of the 20th century, but they are part of the same long-term project to keep minorities from the ballot box. And because African-Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, the laws are nearly always passed by Republican-dominated legislatures.

In a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s strict new voter-ID law, a former staff member for a Republican lawmaker testified that Republicans were “politically frothing at the mouth” at the prospect that the law would drive down Democratic turnout. It worked: After the 2016 election, one survey found that the law prevented possibly more than 17,000 registered voters, disproportionately poor and minority, from voting. Donald Trump carried the state by fewer than 23,000 votes.

FAILING TECHNOLOGY The legitimacy of an election is only as good as the reliability of the machines that count the votes. And yet 43 states use voting machines that are no longer being made, and are at or near the end of their useful life. Many states still manage their voter-registration rolls using software programs from the 1990s. It’s no surprise that this sort of infrastructure failure hits poorer and minority areas harder, often creating hourslong lines at the polls and discouraging many voters from coming out at all. Upgrading these machines nationwide would cost at least $1 billion, maybe much more, and Congress has consistently failed to provide anything close to sufficient funding to speed along the process.

Elections are hard to run with aging voting technology, but at least those problems aren’t intentional. Hacking and other types of interference are.In 2016, Russian hackers were able to breach voter registration systems in Illinois and several other states, and targeted dozens more. They are interfering again in advance of the 2018 midterms, according to intelligence officials, who are demanding better cybersecurity measures. These include conducting regular threat assessments, using voting machines that create paper trails and conducting postelection audits. Yet President Trump, who sees any invocation of Russian interference as a challenge to the legitimacy of his election, consistently downplays or dismisses these threats. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s State Department has not spent a dime of the $120 million Congress allocated to it to fight disinformation campaigns by Russia and other countries.

DISILLUSIONMENT Some people wouldn’t vote if you put a ballot box in their living room. Whether they believe there is no meaningful difference between the major parties or that the government doesn’t care what they think regardless of who is in power, they have detached themselves from the political process.

That attitude is encouraged by many in government, up to and including the current president, who cynically foster feelings of disillusionment by hawking fake tales of rigged systems and illegal voters, even as they raise millions of dollars from wealthy donors and draw legislative maps to entrench their power.

The disillusionment is understandable, and to some degree it’s justified. But it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. When large numbers of people don’t vote, elections are indeed decided by narrow, unrepresentative groups and in the interests of wealth and power. The public can then say, See? We were right. They don’t care about us. But when more people vote, the winning candidates are more broadly representative and that improves government responsiveness to the public and enhances democratic legitimacy.

These obstacles to voting and political participation are very real, and we don’t discount their impact on turnout. The good news is there are fixes for all of them.

The most important and straightforward fix is to make it easier for people to register and vote. Automatic voter registration, which first passed in Oregon just three years ago, is now the law or practice in nine states, both red and blue, and the District of Columbia. Washington State is on the cuspof becoming the tenth, and New Jersey and Nevada may be close behind. More people also turn out when states increase voting opportunities, such as by providing mail-in ballots or by expanding voting hours and days.

The courts should be a bulwark protecting voting rights, and many lower federal courts have been just that in recent years, blocking the most egregious attacks on voting in states from North Carolina to Wisconsin. But the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has made this task much harder, mainly by gutting a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in a 2013 case. Decisions like that one, which split 5 to 4, depend heavily on who is sitting in those nine seats — yet another reason people should care who gets elected.

In the end, the biggest obstacle to more Americans voting is their own sense of powerlessness. It’s true: Voting is a profound act of faith, a belief that even if your voice can’t change policy on its own, it makes a difference. Consider the attitude of Andrea Anthony, the Wisconsin woman who was deterred by the state’s harsh new voter-ID law after voting her whole adult life. “Voting is important to me because I know I have a little, teeny, tiny voice, but that is a way for it to be heard,” Ms. Anthony said. “Even though it’s one vote, I feel it needs to count.”

She’s right. The future of America is in your hands. More people voting would not only mean “different political parties with different platforms and different candidates,” the writer Rebecca Solnit said. “It would change the story. It would change who gets to tell the story.”

There are a lot of stories desperately needing to be told right now, but they won’t be as long as millions of Americans continue to sit out elections. Lament the state of the nation as much as you want. Then get out and vote.

Berke, Lauren Simkin. “Vote. That’s Just What They Don’t Want You to Do.” New York Times, March 10, 2018. 

Local leaders’ views on elections in Michigan: accuracy, problems, and reform options

U of M’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (housed in the Ford School) just published a report detailing “local leaders’ views on elections in Michigan: accuracy, problems, and reform options.” Check out the information below!


“This report presents the opinions of Michigan’s local government leaders on issues related to election administration in their jurisdictions, including problems encountered, worker recruitment and training, updating voting equipment, and potential
reforms. These findings are based on statewide surveys of local government leaders in the Spring 2017 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS).

Actually, College Students Are Voting – And Here’s Why That Matters

by Massachusetts State Senator Eric Lesser (@EricLesser) and California State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (@KevinKileyCA)
Add one more to the long list of faulty assumptions about the 2016 election: young Americans stayed in their dorm rooms rather than heading outside to vote.

Apathy on behalf of students towards the democratic process may be the stereotype – but increasingly, it’s not the reality. The conventional wisdom in American politics is that, compared to older generations, young people on college campuses exhibit a lack of trust in the process and don’t vote. With civil discourse strained and a country divided, “the young are passionate, opinionated, and barely aware,” as a leading magazine put it a few years ago.

In fact, student participation improved by 7 percent in 2016, compared to the presidential election in 2012, according to an important new, landmark study from Tufts University and the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). Put another way, more than 350,000 additional students voted in 2016 than 2012. The NSLVE study is as significant as it is sweeping: it analyzed voting rates of nearly 10 million active students attending more than 1,000 institutions of higher education across all 50 states – roughly half of all college students in the country. Among the findings was increased voting rates among Latino and Asian students. And while older students in the NSLVE data set were more likely to vote, the participation rate of the youngest group of college students increased notably by 4 percent over 2012.

As a Democratic State Senator in Massachusetts and a Republican State Assemblyman in California who lead our states’ Millennial Caucuses, and as former classmates who met on a college campus where we developed a shared passion for public service that transcends party, we are encouraged by these findings. If millennials – a generation that surpassed Baby Boomers in terms of size in 2016 – continue to vote, we will emerge as a potent force in American politics that elevates issues important to young people like housing costs, college affordability, and the country’s debt to the top of the agenda.
Yes, the country is divided, and so are young voters, who split roughly evenly across the ideological spectrum. But engaging young voters is a nonpartisan cause, and we can come together as Democrats and Republicans to help young Americans participate in American democracy. Student engagement in the democratic process is critical if our country is to tackle its most pressing challenges, think long-term, and continue to stand for freedom on the world stage. Because as President Ronald Reagan famously said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream.”
Across the country, there is a new energy to make improvements on campuses: colleges and universities have been taking action to increase student voting rates and informed citizenship in recent years. Northwestern University is a prime example. When the freshman class of 2021 arrived on campus this Fall, just 39 percent were registered voters. But by the end of the first day of class, voter registration was at a staggering 96.4 percent. How? The school integrates voter registration into move-in day. Because of Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement’s programs, registering to vote becomes as routine for new students as unpacking extra-long twin sheets for their dorm rooms.
In the Big Ten​,​ Conference Presidents have joined together for the Big Ten Voting Challenge, a competition that seeks to increase voter registration and participation on campuses. It’s a bipartisan group including former Republican Governor Mitch Daniels (President of Purdue University) and former Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Obama, Rebecca Blank (Chancellor of University of Wisconsin – Madison).  The Southern Conference is also running competitions to award schools with the highest and most improved voter participation. And on October 19th the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge is hosting an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. to honor college campuses, and individuals on those campuses, that are leading the way to increase student voting rates.
Still, there’s work to be done. Younger Americans continue to have the lowest voting rate of any age group, according to Pew Research Center. We can do better. And any voter outreach efforts must be coupled with a renewed focus on civic education in our schools, so students can start learning how democracy actually works and develop the values and habits of citizenship before they reach voting age.
More than fifty years ago, President Truman commissioned a study on higher education, finding that civic education is the foundation of liberty, and stating that, “Without an educated citizenry alert to preserve and extend freedom, it would not long endure.”
It’s now on us to come together, ​encourage civic engagement, ​ and ensure that we “preserve and extend freedom” in our country for generations to come.
Senator Eric P. Lesser is a Democrat representing the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western Massachusetts and previously worked as an aide in the Obama White House. When he was first elected at 29 years-old in 2014, Senator Lesser was the youngest member of the Massachusetts State Senate. 
Assemblyman Kevin Kiley represents California’s Sixth Assembly District, near Sacramento. Formerly a high school teacher, Assemblyman Kiley is the state’s youngest Republican Legislator.
This post was originally published in ATTN: