Here’s how election nights in Michigan used to work in the old days. Most of the vote would come pouring in first from Detroit, which had machines and could count very quickly. Detroit was a big, brawling labor union town which delivered big majorities to the Democrats. Most of the rest of the state voted Republican. So the Detroit vote would come in, and then everyone waited to see if there were enough outstate Republican votes to overcome the big-city Democratic lead.
That’s changed a lot in recent years. Now Detroit is more Democratic than ever. But it is a lot smaller. And in recent times it hasn’t been reporting first, it has often reported last, for reasons unknown.
The city, indeed, no longer has the numbers it once did. In 1960, about 3.3 million Michiganders voted; about one out of every four of them lived in the city of Detroit. A similar number are expected to vote in Michigan next week. But the demographics have changed.
This time, even if the most optimistic estimates come truep;, the total vote cast in Detroit will be less than ten percent of the statewide total; probably more like seven or eight percent.
Yet in a way it is as important as ever. That’s because it is so one-sided. In recent years, most Democrats have received close to unanimous support from the city. George W. Bush actually carried the rest of Michigan, twice. So did Dick Posthumus when he ran for governor four years ago.
But at the city line, things dramatically changed. Al Gore and Jennifer Granholm each got 94 percent. John Kerry didn’t do as well. He got only 93 percent. But in all cases, it was more than enough to overcome the GOP lead.
But in some elections, the citizens had to wait well into the next day to find out how Detroit had voted, and to find out who won Michigan.
Janice Winfrey, Detroit’s new city clerk, has vowed to change all that. She is a former math teacher with some background in administration. Last fall, she defeated a longtime incumbent city clerk.
That helped restore my faith in the system. Two years ago, I had received a letter in the mail from the previous Detroit City Clerk, urging me to vote in the 2004 presidential election. She sent me a letter that complained that I hadn’t voted in the city since 1988. Nothing wrong with the sentiment, but it was misplaced.
Yes, I hadn’t voted in Detroit. I have never voted in Detroit, because I don’t live there. I haven’t lived in Detroit since 1956, and I did not vote there then, because I was four years old.
Most baffling is that the letter was sent to my house. Which is in another city. How could she have expected me to vote legally in her city? Somehow I don’t think I’ll ever get an answer.
You just couldn’t make up some of this stuff.