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Key Takeaways From The August Primary Elections In Lansing, Jackson

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Although overall turnout was low, absentee voting was popular.

Voters in Lansing and Jackson narrowed down the field of candidates for mayor Tuesday.

And mid-Michigan residents gave a thumbs up to several tax proposals.

WKAR's politics and civics reporter Sarah Lehr joined All Things Considered host Sophia Saliby to discuss voter turnout and other takeaways from Greater Lansing primary elections.

Below, are interview highlights and a transcript of their conversation.

Interview Highlights

On The Uphill Battle To Unseat Lansing's Mayor

Andy Schor is the front runner. He was the top vote-getter Tuesday with about 49% of the vote. He's trailed by Kathie Dunbar who got 20% of the vote. Dunbar is a City Council member and she positions herself as a more progressive foil to Andy Schor. Schor did out-fundraise her by a margin of more than eight to one, according to his pre-election campaign finance reports. Schor seems to be more of this establishment candidate. In addition to raising the most money, he's racking up all of the endorsements so Dunbar faces a bit of an uphill battle to challenge him.

On Why So Many People Are Voting From Home

Absentee voting has been popular in Lansing and throughout Michigan for the last several years. I think the coronavirus pandemic played a role. People may be worried about going to the polls which might be crowded, so they want to fill out an absentee ballot from the comfort of their own homes and then mail it in or drop it off. Also, in 2018, voters OK’d changes to Michigan elections. Before that, you had to cite a specific reason like being out of town on Election Day to vote absentee.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I'm Sophia Saliby. Voters throughout Greater Lansing and mid-Michigan cast their ballots yesterday. I'm here now with WKAR’s politics reporter Sarah Lehr to break down election results. Hi, Sarah. Thanks for being here.

Sarah Lehr: Thanks for having me.

Saliby: In Lansing, two candidates, Andy Schor and Kathie Dunbar advanced in the race to become the capital city's next mayor. What can we expect from that matchup in the general election Nov. 2?

Lehr: Well, Andy Schor is the front runner. He was the top vote-getter Tuesday with about 49% of the vote. He's trailed by Kathie Dunbar who got 20% of the vote. Dunbar is a City Council member and she positions herself as a more progressive foil to Andy Schor. Schor did out-fundraise her by a margin of more than eight to one, according to his preelection campaign finance reports. Schor seems to be more of this establishment candidate. In addition to raising the most money, he's racking up all of the endorsements so Dunbar faces a bit of an uphill battle to challenge him. Patricia Spitzley, another City Council member, came in third on Tuesday. She was knocked out of the race with about 500 votes separating her and Kathie Dunbar. Dunbar and Spitzley were definitely the most politically connected challengers to Schor. Virg Bernero, who was Lansing's mayor through 2017, was going to run against Schor this year, but he dropped out of the race in the spring because he was faced with multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

Saliby: And we should say Schor is the incumbent. He is trying to get a second term with this race. Lansing also had some City Council races on the ballot. What were the takeaways there?

Lehr: In City Council races, all of the incumbents are advancing to the general. In the at-large race city council president Peter Spadafore led the pack with the most votes. He'll be competing in November against Jeffrey Brown, Rachel Willis, who's a Lansing school board member, and Claretta Duckett-Freeman. Kathie Dunbar is an at-large representative but she's giving up her seat on the council next term to run for mayor. In the second ward, incumbent Jeremy Garza won easily. He's facing challenger Oprah Revish in the general election. They're competing for one seat representing southeast Lansing.

Saliby: The city of Jackson had its primary election, too. What happened in the mayor's race there?

Lehr: In Jackson, two candidates advanced from a field of four. Jackson County Commissioner Daniel Mahoney and John Wilson, who retired from the Michigan Department of Corrections, will be competing in the general. They knocked two City Council Members, Laura Dwyer Schlecte and Jeromy Alexander, out of the race. As in Lansing, Jackson's elections are nonpartisan. And in November there actually are going to be two city council races, ward one and ward three, on the ballot. Those races were uncontested in August because they had too few candidates, but they will be contested in November.

Saliby: We've also been following several tax issues that voters in a few of our listening area communities were asked to respond to. What were the results for those?

Lehr: There were three tax issues all approved by voters in the Lansing area. In Potterville, the school district’s voters allowed the district to borrow up to $28 million to finance construction. In the Leslie school district, voters okayed the renewal of an existing tax on non-homestead properties like second homes and businesses. And in the city of Lansing voters authorized the city to keep an existing tax that funds police, fire, roads and sidewalks.

Saliby: What was voter turnout like for this primary August election?

Lehr: Turnout was small, although that's to be expected in a local election in August. In Lansing, only about 15% of registered voters cast their ballots in the mayor's race. That's on par with the turnout percentage from four years ago, which was the last time Lansing had a mayoral primary. Although overall turnout was low, absentee voting was popular. About 76% of Lansing voters in the mayoral election voted absentee. Four years ago, only 44% of voters in the mayoral race voted absentee.

Saliby: And, in this last minute here, why do you think absentee voting was so popular this year?

Lehr: Absentee voting has been popular in Lansing and throughout Michigan for the last several years. I think the coronavirus pandemic played a role. People may be worried about going to the polls which might be crowded, so they want to fill out an absentee ballot from the comfort of their own homes and then mail it in or drop it off. Also, in 2018, voters OK’d changes to Michigan elections. Before that, you had to cite a specific reason like being out of town on Election Day to vote absentee. Now, you can vote absentee without citing a specific reason. It's also worth saying that Lansing has been promoting absentee voting for a while now. Lansing’s clerk has a permanent absentee voter list where you can sign up and say, “Just send me an absentee ballot, mail it to me every election.”

Saliby: Sarah Lehr is our politics and civics reporter. Thank you for joining me.

Lehr: It's been a pleasure.

Saliby: You can find more coverage of election results in mid-Michigan at wkar.org. I'm Sophia Saliby. This is WKAR.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Sarah Lehr is a politics and civics reporter for WKAR News.
Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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