Low Turnout Likely With No Marquee Statewide Race

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A lack of contested statewide races at the top of the primary ballot means turnout will be low — possibly extremely low. And the anemic voter participation could add another layer of uncertainty to U.S. House and legislative races across the state.

“Weird things happen in primaries,” said Republican strategist Stu Sandler, a campaign consultant for three U.S. House candidates.

For what is thought to be the first time in Michigan history, Republican and Democratic primaries for both governor and U.S. Senate in the same year are uncontested. The lowest statewide turnout for an August primary in recent memory was 1990, when 1 million people — 15 percent of the voting-age population — cast a ballot.

Some observers won’t be surprised if fewer than 1 million voters participate in Tuesday’s election. Nearly 1.7 million voters took part in 2010, when now-Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, a Democrat, advanced to the general election.

“It seems we are on course to possibly have a banner, record-low turnout. That’s going to affect races,” said Matt Marsden, a former adviser in the Legislature whose firm is helping proponents of the lone statewide issue on the ballot to “micro target” voters.

Marsden expected around 550,000 people to request absentee ballots. But roughly 468,000 actually did so, an indication of even lower turnout than expected. And of those ballots mailed out, more than 60 percent had been returned as of the middle of last week. It’s possible at least 21 percent of the absentee ballots will not be mailed back despite voters asking for one, Marsden said.

“You got to wonder why is that 21 percent sitting on somebody’s counter,” he said.

With the primary producing spirited contests — particularly on the GOP side, where the clash between the party’s establishment and populist tea party wings is playing out in congressional and legislative races — candidates are doing everything in their power to identify typical primary voters and persuade them to vote. Two current state House members won their 2012 primaries by just 23 and 26 votes.

Low turnout “is going to give those tea party folks an opportunity,” Marsden said.

Despite there being no top-of-the-ticket races, the primary is not without drama. Four of the state’s 14 U.S. House seats are open — three with competitive primaries — and there also are two heavily-financed challenges to sitting GOP congressmen.