President Trump has claimed repeatedly, without providing evidence, that massive absentee voting creates the potential for massive voter fraud.
It’s become a campaign talking point, as it was at a recent Trump rally in Muskegon. But the president went further than usual during his speech.
Though Michigan’s Secretary of State is in charge of elections, Trump told the crowd to keep a close eye on the state’s head Democrat, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“Be careful of her and her Attorney General because they’re like the judge of the ballot stuff, right? So how the hell do I put my political and our country’s political life in the hands of a pure partisan like that, right?”
The president finished with a warning.
“You gotta watch it. Watch those ballots, watch what’s going on, you’re more important than any eyes. And law enforcement is watching, they’re watching,” Trump said.
Click the audio player to hear voters discuss their concerns about casting ballots in this election
A Call to Arms?
That sense of foreboding about the election process itself is being felt from the presidential podium to places like Sterling Heights.
Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor says he fears people may see Trump’s comments as an order.
“And if (Trump) thinks the election was stolen from him, or even if he doesn’t think that but he says it? I’m afraid that would be a call to arms for a lot of people.” Michael Taylor, Mayor of Sterling Heights
He worries that armed-and-dangerous people, like those who planned to kidnap Gov. Whitmer, might hear the President’s complaints about the legitimacy of the election as a call to take action if Trump loses.
“If there’s not a decisive winner declared on the election night or the next morning, there’s the potential for a lot of problems,” Taylor said. “President Trump is stoking those sorts of fears and that anger. And if he thinks the election was stolen from him, or even if he doesn’t think that but he says it? I’m afraid that would be a call to arms for a lot of people.
It’s also a big concern for Dodge Park Coney Island owner, Pashko Ujkaj.
“The way the climate has become now for the election, there’s so much fear into it and anger,” he said. “It makes you feel like if you don’t vote for the right side this might be the end. That’s how these elections are being promoted now.”
Ujkaj says he’s a rare commodity these days: An undecided voter.
He came from Montenegro as a boy and is now a U.S. citizen who says he’s truly excited about voting. Especially voting in-person.
“Part of the excitement is where you are able to find out that night who’s going to be your next president. That’s I think probably what ties in with my willingness to go in and vote in person. I like my vote to be counted that night. Not two weeks later, or (it) might not even be counted.”
Robin Bordner plans to vote near her family farm in Sturgis. She, too, says she will go in person to the polls, even though she says she’s at a risky age for contracting Covid-19.
“If the news is accurate in that that they’re already finding ballots in mysterious places, I think that’s just a travesty to our system in this country,” Bordner said. “But how do we believe the media today, you know? (It’s) just devastating to our country and our system and the way it was set up that everybody’s voice mattered.”
The Ballot is in the Mail — Maybe
The ballot box is also on the mind of Lyft driver Jeff Haddad.
Haddad says he supports Trump because he believes the nation needs a ”strong man” as its leader. He also agrees with Trump’s suspicions about the potential for fraud in the election.
“My wife, she received five applications for the voting registration. Five of them. And I received four so far. (So) we decided to (vote) in person, me and my wife. I will protect myself with mask and sanitizer and social distance and I’ll be careful,” Haddad said.
Wayne State University student Jeremy Taras says he also has an as-yet-unused voter registration application in his room.
He says he’s preparing to cast his first vote for president.
“I just turned 18. It’s determining our country. I’m starting to become an adult so it’s gonna affect me in the future. So I feel like it’s an important thing that I have to start participating in.”
Taras, a WSU football player, adds that he’s still debating precisely how he’ll deliver his ballot.
“If I can have time to actually do it in person I’m gonna,” Taras said. “But if I have to mail it in I’m gonna have to mail it in. I’m not gonna rush and miss practice just to go and vote. So it all depends on what’s my schedule.”
Detroiter Malinda Hill-Sangster says she gave up on voting by mail weeks ago.
“I can’t even get a piece of mail that’s gonna come from my bank right now,” she said. “And I don’t really trust the mail system right now. So I’m definitely going to go in and I’m going to put my ballot in the tabulator myself at a satellite location.”
Sangster says she knows how to operate the ballot machinery because she’s an election supervisor at a precinct on Detroit’s east side.
She says poll workers will be tested for COVID-19 and wear masks at all voting locations.
But she says some voters may not be able to afford the same precautions. Or they might feel being forced to wear a face-covering is a violation of their constitutional rights.
“My mother…went through a lot worse to vote. Just for me to say ‘Oh I’m not gonna go down there ‘cause I may catch Covid,’ they was catching bullets and getting set on fire and dogs and stuff.” John Wilson, Detroit resident
Sangster says she’s been rehearsing for that possibility.
“We don’t turn you away. If you don’t have a mask I’m not gonna tell you ‘No.’ I’m gonna buy a whole box of masks. And if you come in, if you don’t have a mask and you registered to vote and you want to vote, I’m gonna give you a mask out of my bag,” she said.
“And if you don’t (accept the mask) what can I do? I’m gonna sanitize after you but I’m not gonna stop you. Do what you have to do. If this is how you feel, do it. Do it! Vote.”
Patriotism Over Pandemic
Further down Woodward, Detroiter John Wilson says he’s determined to vote in person.
But not, he says, because he fears accusations of ballot fraud or even the pandemic.
“Well, for the simple reason my mother and them, they went through a lot worse to vote. Just for me to say ‘Oh I’m not gonna go down there ‘cause I may catch COVID,’ they was catching bullets and getting set on fire and dogs and stuff. So all this other stuff really don’t bother me. I take a chance every time I come out my door. If it’s time for me to go home, God gonna tell me to come home. Whether I go to the polls or not.”
Many experts predict that kind of commitment will be widespread and likely produce very long lines at polling places this year.
But many Michiganders say they are ready to brave that wait, plus the threat of the pandemic, if it will ensure their vote is counted in this most contentious of elections.