By Sam Corey
The Review Special Writer
“It’s usually dead,” said Rahat Hassan, a voting clerk for the 6th precinct, when asked if there’s normally a high volume of voters during primary elections.
The trickle of voters waiting in line to vote on Tuesday may not have seemed like a lot, but considering past primary elections at the People’s Community Services on Jos. Campau, it was significant.
So what stirred voters to action?
Local issues, civic duty, and open seats drew unusually high turnout for Tuesday’s Primary Election.
By 6 p.m., the 6th voting precinct had turned out almost 280 voters – something that almost never happens, according to Hassan.
The voter turnout in Hamtramck was indicative of a much larger trend across the State of Michigan, where about 27% of the voting population cast their ballot, beating electoral records dating back to 1978.
In Hamtramck, for comparison, 3,543 residents, or 30.41% of the registered voters, voted on Tuesday – which is actually higher than the state percentage.
“I’ve seen nothing like this before,” said City Clerk August Gitschlag, who had to help out in some of the precincts because some election workers failed to show up.
By far the majority of voting happened at the Hamtramck High School Community Center, a place that is normally quiet. On Tuesday, however, it was densely packed. Lines of people snaked around the door as residents eagerly waited to cast their vote.
Regan Watson, the clerk overseeing voting at the Hamtramck High School Community Center, which encompassed the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th voting precincts, was lightly sweating by late afternoon.
“We’ve been running around all day,” she said of the voting clerks. Some of the highest turnouts she had seen – easily the highest turnouts of any other voting center in the city – belonged to the community center’s gymnasium.
By the end of the day, estimations of voting tallies were 493, 453, and 714, for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th voting precincts, respectively.
City Clerk Gitschlag said one reason voters came out in droves was because of the open seats for state representative, state senator and for the governor, who is being termed out.
“There was a lot of money spent, a lot of open seats,” he said.
There were so many voters, the amount of spoiled ballots, or ballots that needed to be re-submitted, were “through the roof,” said Gitschlag. Many voters did not realize you had to vote for only one political party in the partisan section of the ballot.
In the 4th precinct alone, there were 143 spoiled ballots.
Voters were eager to express their own reasons for voting. What motivated them? Their experiences are described below.
For some, voting was a civic duty:
Yasin Farhan exited the polls with a relieved smile on his face – he was voting for the first time. “It was quicker than I thought it was.” Farhan, who will be going to college in the fall, believed that change occurs at the local level, and by voting, he affected change.
Evan Sotnik, who lives on McDougall, has been a Hamtramck resident for three years. Sotnik has been voting ever since he turned 18. “I know that primaries are a little more difficult to get motivated for,” he said, “but with the way things are going everyone needs to do their part.”
Jarek and Eva, a couple who have lived in Hamtramck for the last 25 years, have always voted. When asked why, they gave a dumbfounded expression.
“Why did we vote?” Jarek asked rhetorically. “It’s a civic duty,” both responded in unison.
“When you ask me ‘why?’ that’s a strange question because ‘why do you eat?’ ‘Why do you go to the bathroom?’” Jarek explained.
Lynn Blasey has lived in the Hamtramck since 2012, when she moved for her job with the College of Creative Studies.
“I always vote in the primaries,” said Blasey. “I think it’s awesome that so many people are running for state rep. I love that anyone has a chance, and that’s what the primaries are about – anyone has a chance to run.”
For others, they came out to support local candidates:
It was her first time advocating for a candidate at the polls for Candace Martin, a Detroit resident, who has been canvassing for the past five months for Brian Banks, a state senate candidate who lost on Tuesday.
“I support Brian for some of the things he wants to talk about in Lansing, such as public education, we need our schools back in the city. Talking about auto insurance, we’re paying more than our note. And you know we need good health care,” said Martin.
Donnell Young, a lifelong Hamtramck resident, now living on 6 Mile and Conant, was canvassing for Anam Miah, another state senate candidate who lost Tuesday. Miah, like Young, supports labor unions.
“I feel like people that are homeless need skills,” Young said.
Fahad Chuwdhury has lived in Hamtramck for five years. He supported MD Rabbi Alam, a veteran of the Iraq war.
“He was a U.S. army sergeant. He can help the community,” said Chuwdhury.
For the rest, the primary election meant addressing the issues:
Like most of her friends, Lindsey Robillard was excited to vote based on issues that affected her. A Hamtramck resident since 2014, Robillard voted to lower the price of car insurance.
“This election felt particularly important because I know they will be addressing car insurance,” she said.
“We need to put someone in office we can trust,” said longtime voter Tony Dedvukha. Dedvukha, who grew up in the city, came out not just because of the importance of voting, but also because he wants to begin solving the issues in Hamtramck, and Michigan more broadly.
“I understand that we want to make our nation great again,” Dedvukha began, “but you’re throwing people out who are paying their taxes. We need someone in office who is caring for the people, not just the high class, the rich people, what about us little people down here? That’s what we need, man.”
Zakaria Hossain came to live in Hamtramck when he was 6 or 7 years old. This was his first experience voting in the primary. “What people don’t understand is this is the vote that actually counts,” said Hossain.
“I just keep hearing people, ‘oh I don’t like this,’ ‘oh I don’t like that,’ but you have to go out there and make a change.”
Hossain was concerned about creating a better school system, and better roads.
Kit Parks, a local artist, and Alissa Shelton, the owner of Bank Suey, stalked the polls to get voters to vote “no” on charter amendment proposal one, which would allow city council members “to wave the requirements for city manager regardless of the qualification,” said Parks.
Despite their effort, the proposal overwhelmingly passed, 1,155 to 643.
Aug. 10, 2018