November 8, 2020
Michigan’s reputation as one of a dozen or so presidential battleground states came true once again as international attention and record-breaking amounts of money were spent on campaigns to turn out Michigan voters on November 3. And the COVID-19 pandemic continued to rage.
The unofficial vote count with 83 of 83 counties and 99.7 percent of Michigan’s precincts reporting indicates 5,519,348 Michiganders cast ballots of the 7.7 million registered voters in Michigan for a 71 percent voting rate, compared to the 4.8 million who voted in 2016. The previous record was in 2008 when just over 5 million voted. This election produced the highest percentage of voter turnout in a Michigan election since 1960. This record turnout occurred despite fears of polling place disruptions associated with hotly contested races. State officials say they received no reports of widespread voting irregularities, intimidation, or threats with guns at polling places on Election Day.
After the election, county and State officials work with local clerks to perform a canvass and certification of the election results. Each county canvassing board meets, sometimes daily, to review the work of the city and township clerks in its jurisdiction to ensure staff followed procedures while tabulating results. It’s bipartisan and takes about two weeks to complete. The results are finalized when the Michigan Board of State Canvassers certifies the election approximately three weeks after Election Day.
Regions — Turnout in Detroit was flat at 49.56 percent this year, up slightly from 48.61 percent four years ago. From a percentage increase, lower-propensity voters turned out in force this year: Luce County saw a turnout increase of 44.6 percentage points, followed by Antrim County at 30.8 point increase, Mecosta at 21.7 percent, Jackson at 20.9 percent, Clare at 20.5 percent, Montcalm at 19.7 percent, Livingston at 19.3 percent, Allegan at 19.2 percent, Kalkaska at 19.2 percent, and Newaygo at 19.1 percent. Of the 26 counties with the largest percentage increases in turnout compared to 2016, all were strong Trump counties.
But in raw numbers, the county with the biggest turnout increase was Oakland where 97,068 more people voted than in 2016 though it ranked 51 of Michigan’s 83 counties in turnout increase at 14.3 percent point increase. Wayne, the State’s largest county, was second in raw number increase with a 78,950 increase in ballots cast though it ranked 7th lowest turnout increase at 10 percent, followed by Macomb at 74,741 more ballots cast. The other large raw vote increase came from Kent with 48,678 more ballots.
Due to changes in election law in 2018 allowing no-reason absentee voting along with a concerted effort to encourage absentee voting due to fears of COVID-19 spread at indoor polling locations, a record-breaking 3.26 million absentee ballots were cast in the general election and 2.3 million individuals voted in person on November 3.
More than 28,000 persons also took advantage of the new same-day voter registration law, many coming from Detroit and Ann Arbor.
In Michigan’s unofficial vote count as of the afternoon of November 6, former Vice President Joe Biden bested President Donald Trump by 146,119 votes with 50.56 percent of the vote to Trump’s 47.91 percent, a 2.65 percentage point margin for a win of the State’s coveted 16 electoral votes. In 2016, candidate Trump won Michigan by less than 11,000 votes. Minor party candidates did not play a significant role in this year’s presidential race in contrast to 2016, only garnering 84,172 votes combined. Biden’s margin of victory of 2.65 points fell far short of most pollster predictions in the weeks and days before the election.
Biden was only able to win in 10 of Michigan’s 83 counties but was able to flip a few counties that Trump took in 2016 such as Leelanau and Saginaw counties and boosted Democratic margins in Wayne and Oakland counties compared to Clinton in 2016. Trump increased his support impressively in less populous areas of the State by 366,849 votes over 2016, but that was not enough to overcome Biden’s support in highly populated urban-suburban counties.
Electoral College — Michigan’s 16 electoral-college votes will by State law be cast on December 14 for the Presidential candidate winning the most votes in Michigan. This will contribute to the minimum 270 electoral college votes required to win the U.S. Presidency. Michigan Election Law (Public Act 116 of 1954) specifies that the State’s electors must be those nominated by the party whose candidate receives the most votes. Michigan’s Republican and Democrat parties nominated their electors at their State conventions in August of this year. According to the Secretary of State website, the Legislature has no authority to replace these electors nor dictate that they act in any manner counter to that which is specified by law.
State laws also dictate the immediate removal of any elector who does not vote for the presidential candidate of the party that nominated the elector, and that an elector’s illegal vote must not be counted nor recorded.
Challenges — Trump’s campaign filed a lawsuit on November 4 against the Secretary of State to stop the counting of ballots due to perceived vote counting irregularities. The next day, Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled that the lawsuit was unlikely to succeed on the merits, mostly because only hearsay allegations were presented by Trump’s campaign. The State argued the issue was moot since the absent voter counting boards had already completed their work. An appeal by the Trump campaign will likely be filed. Other complaints and lawsuits at this writing are also all pending resolution.
The Michigan Senate and House Oversight Committees held a rare Saturday hearing on November 7 and voted themselves along party lines subpoena power to obtain from the Bureau of Elections information and communications related to the processes followed during the August primary and the November general election. One item requested was all information and communications related to the May 2020 mailings of absentee ballot applications (not ballots) to voters and two September 2020 mailings ’ 4.4 million postcards to voters about voting from home during the pandemic as well as about 700,000 letters to individuals across the State with a driver’s license or State identification card but who were not registered to vote explaining how to register to vote.
At the same time as the Joint Oversight Committee hearing, a rally of President Trump’s supporters was held on the Capitol steps and lawn protesting the validity of Tuesday’s election.
U.S. Senate — Incumbent Democrat U.S. Senator Gary Peters won re-election to a six-year term, beating Republican challenger John James by 84,316 votes, 49.83 percent to 48.29 percent of the vote. James refused to concede saying he had “deep concerns that millions of Michiganders may have been disenfranchised by a dishonest few who cheat.” At the national level, it looks like at this writing that there is a 48 to 48 tie for U.S. Senate seats with two seats still undecided and two seats vacant. The battle for party control of the U.S. Senate may come down to two January 5 runoff elections in Georgia.
OTHER STATEWIDE RACES
Michigan Supreme Court — Incumbent Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack won re-election easily and helped along the election of co-Democrat nominee Elizabeth Welch to an open seat on the court, replacing departing Justice Stephen Markman. Their election gave the court 4 — 3 Democratic majority for the first time in ten years.
Congressional Races — Michigan’s Congressional delegation will remain an even split of 7 — 7 between Republicans and Democrats. All incumbents were re-elected; the two open seats were filled with Republicans Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids in the 3rd Congressional District replacing Libertarian Justin Amash and Lisa McClain of Bruce Township in the 10th Congressional District which covers a part of northern Macomb County as well as the Thumb counties of St. Clair, Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac, and Lapeer counties. She filled the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell. McClain is an executive with Hantz Group, a contractor with the State Employee Retirees Association.
Nationally, Democrats lost at least four freshmen U.S. Representatives who had just won their seats in a 2018 midterm election. Democrats retained the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives but the exact count is not known at this writing. At least 131 women will serve in the U.S. Congress in 2021 surpassing last term’s record number of 127.
Boards of Education — Democrats won five out of eight State education seats, retaining majorities on all four State education boards. Michigan State University Trustee Brian Mossalam and University of Michigan Regent Shauna Ryder Diggs lost their re-election bids.
Michigan House — House Democrats won the statewide popular vote for their House candidates but 2010 Republican gerrymandered districts continued to stand in the way of flipping the House to Democratic control. And Democratic coat tails at the top of the ticket were not long enough to change the make-up of the Michigan House. Republicans will extend their majority run to 12 years with a 58-52 majority for the 2021-2022 session that begins January 13 when the 101st Michigan Legislature convenes.
A Republican-controlled Legislature can continue to block Governor Whitmer’s priority public policy initiatives, budget preferences, and executive reorganization orders. It can approve conservative initiative petitions and pass bills that force a gubernatorial veto. And Republicans and Democrats may continue to disagree on a coronavirus response, thus delaying full public health and economic recovery.
Democrats were seriously targeting three Oakland County seats but only came out with one flip in the 38th House District where Kelly Breen of Novi defeated Chase Turner of Northville 31,217 to 29,263. Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Township) won reelection, defeating Julia Pulver of West Bloomfield 30,754 to 27,561 in the 39th District. And Republican Mark Tisdel defeated Barb Anness in the Rochester-based 45th District 31,778 to 30,495.
Trump took Bay County, a traditionally Democratic area, with 58 percent of the vote and those voters helped defeat incumbent Democrat State Rep. Brian Elder of Bay City, replacing him with Republican Tim Beason. Trump also did well in exurban Genesee County where Rep. Sheryl Kennedy (D-Davison) lost her reelection bid in the 48th District to Republican David Martin, 24,306 votes to 24,796 votes.
The Michigan House will see 28 new members elected to open seats. Democrats elected 15 new members, 9 women and 6 men while Republicans elected 13 white males. The number of women serving remains the same at 42. The Republican caucus will have 15 women serving, down from 17 in the current term. The Democrats will have a majority female caucus of 27 women and 25 men.
House Leadership — State House Speaker Pro Tem State Rep. Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) was formally elected by the House Republican Caucus on November 4 as its next leader and presumptive next Speaker of the House when the session begins in January. Mr. Wentworth had locked up the leadership race months ago. He will replace current House Majority Leader Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) who is termed out. State Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Owosso) was elected the incoming majority floor leader. Rep. Frederick was a longtime legislative aide before being elected to the House in 2016.
State House Democrats selected Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) as their leader succeeding House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) for the role. The Democratic Caucus will have 27 women and 25 men. Current Minority Floor Leader Yousef Rabhi was elected by his peers for a second term in the position.
Michigan Senate Changes — Although none of the Michigan Senate seats were on the ballot this year, two Senators ran successfully for other offices. Senator Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township) won election to the Macomb County Prosecutor position and Senator Peter MacGregor (R-Rockford) will become the new Kent County Treasurer. Special elections will be held to replace them.
Other State Chambers — About 6,000 State legislative seats out of the nation’s 7,383 were on the ballot Tuesday. Republicans have controlled a majority of state legislative seats since the 2010 election, when 13 chambers flipped to the GOP. Going into November 3, Republicans controlled 59 of 99 state legislative chambers.
Biden’s election did not produce a blue wave nationally in state houses. Democrats had hoped to flip Republican-led chambers in Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas, but failed. Majority party control in many states will play a crucial role next year in the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional and state legislative maps based on the census. Redistricting of state and federal voting districts in many states where the Legislature is in control of drawing the lines may continue to see biased design in favor of the party in control of the process.
Ballot Issues — The two statewide Michigan ballot issues passed handily. Proposal 1, a State constitutional amendment to amend the way oil and gas mining funds are distributed, garnered over 84 percent support despite divided views from the environmental organizations in Michigan. Proposal 2, that would require search warrants for government access to a person’s electronic data and communication, attracted nearly 89 percent support.
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