2020 Presidential Hullabaloo Eclipsing Upcoming Local Elections in Michigan

MichMash hosts Cheyna Roth and Jake Neher talk about why you should be paying attention to these local races and ballot measures.

WDET Digital
WDET Digital

Democratic candidates for president in 2020 descended on Michigan for the second round of debates in Detroit this week. That spectacle has largely eclipsed the fact that voters in dozens of Michigan communities will be going to polls to decide local races and ballot questions on Tuesday. 

There won’t be any national or statewide primaries on the ballot and turnout will probably be low. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore these elections. In fact, this might be the most important time to pay attention.

As part of the weekly series MichMash, hosts Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth talk about the importance of local elections and some of the larger issues at play.


Click on the audio player above to hear that conversation.

“Elected officials and governments taking advantage of low participation to avoid public scrutiny.”

These local elections are often the ones that have the most direct impact on your life and your community. They affect your taxes, your schools, your parks, your police and fire services, and much more. So why do we tend to overlook them?

“It’s part of a broader nationalization of American politics where people are paying less attention to state and local politics,” says Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) at Michigan State University. 

Grossmann says there are studies that show local officials and/or interest groups choose to put certain questions on the ballot when they know fewer people are paying attention and voting. That’s because those proposals will see less public scrutiny and the kind of people showing up to the polls are more likely to support them.

“There’s a lot of reasons to participate in general, but it also helps to counteract elected officials and governments taking advantage of low participation to avoid public scrutiny,” he says.

These elections will be one of the first major tests of marijuana legalization in Michigan

Three communities — Highland Park, Vanderbilt, and Crystal Lake — will all have marijuana-related questions on their ballot.

Proposal 1, which legalized recreation marijuana in Michigan in 2018, allows communities to decide whether they will allow cannabis business to operate inside their borders. 

These are likely the first of many communities that will make these kinds of decisions at the ballot box in the coming months and years, and will start the process of shaping what the marijuana industry eventually looks like across the state.

Related: The Man Who Wants to Make Highland Park His Marijuana Headquarters

Some of the rules have changed for elections since last year

The passage of Proposal 3 in 2018 means Michiganders now have more access to ballots. This will be the second election that many of these new protections will be in place.

Voters can now register to vote right up to and on the day of the election. Voters are also now able to vote absentee for any reason. The deadline to obtain an absentee ballot is Monday at 4 p.m.

You can find out if your community is holding an election on Tuesday and see your sample ballot here.


  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.