Your Michigan Election Day 2020 voting toolkit: know the candidates, issues

As of Friday, 3.3 million Michiganders had requested absentee ballots and 2.6 million had already cast votes. If you still haven’t decided how you’ll fill out your ballot, there’s still time to study up before casting your vote. (Bridge file photo by Riley Beggin)

Presidential politics have dominated the news cycle this election season, but your ballot allows you to weigh in on a heck of a lot more than the Biden-Trump race.  

Michiganders this election season will elect candidates to the state House and Congress, local boards and commissions, Michigan Supreme Court and more. They’ll also determine the fate of two statewide ballot proposals.

But even if you’ve got your presidential candidate, you might not have thought much about local races. If so, don’t sweat it. The links below will help you get up to speed on which candidate shares your values and deserves your vote.  

As of Friday, 2.6 million Michiganders had already cast votes. That’s more than half the total number of ballots cast in 2008, when Michigan voters turned out in record numbers. 

If you’re among those who have yet to exercise your civic duty, you can still do so by either voting absentee or lining up at the polls on Election Day. Bridge Michigan’s Riley Beggin has the details on how to make sure your vote gets counted, plus answers to your other election-related questions.

Here are a few resources to help you pick which candidates and causes to support.

Related:

Find out who’s giving money to candidates 

You can learn who’s funding candidates for Michigan’s U.S. House and Senate seats (and how the candidates are spending the money) by browsing ProPublica’s FEC itemizer.

Candidates for federal office are legally required to report fundraising and spending to the Federal Election Commission at regular intervals. The ProPublica tool captures those filings and makes spending data available to readers in an easy-to-read format.  

For example, as of Oct. 14, Democratic U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, had spent nearly $6 million in the race for Michigan’s 8th House District. Her opponent, Republican Paul Junge, had spent just $1.3 million. 

You can delve deeper into the data to find out what candidates bought with their cash, from consulting to ad buys — and even how much they spent at Trump-owned properties ($0 for both Slotkin and Junge).  

The ProPublica tool doesn’t list campaign contributions and spending for state and local races. But you can find information about the cash flow in those races by browsing the Michigan Secretary of State’s campaign finance database.

Read up on candidates’ positions on key issues

Where do the candidates on your ballot stand on immigration, the environment, social injustice or the economy? The nonpartisan League of Women Voters has published a user-friendly guide to help you find out, whether you’re vetting candidates for the local school board or U.S. Congress. 

The web-based Vote411 guide lets you look up candidates on your ballot by plugging your address into an online tool. 

The tool includes photos, biographical information and answers to a series of questions the League of Women Voters asked every candidate in a contested race (although not every candidate provided answers). In some cases, the tool even catalogs videos of past debates to give you yet another way of discerning the candidates’ stances before you head to the polls.

You can also view a sample ballot for your voting precinct on the Michigan Secretary of State website. 

Pore over Bridge Michigan’s election coverage. 

The Bridge team has been working for months to supply you with information about the candidates vying for your vote and provide context about the issues and trends likely to influence this year’s election.

We’ve delved into the most hotly contested races for the state House.

We’ve demystified Proposal 1, which would change the rules of how oil and gas money supports Michigan’s recreation lands, and Proposal 2, which would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant for digital data. 

We’ve profiled Gary Peters and John James, the candidates battling for one of the nation’s most hotly contested U.S. Senate seats. 

We’ve reported extensively on how presidential politics are playing out in Michigan this year, including recent stories on what Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden must do to win Michigan.  

And we’ve kept Michigan candidates honest with the Fact Squad that has scrutinized promises and allegations they've made in their campaign ads.

We’ve spent months talking to voters throughout the state to gauge the mood of Michigan and better understand support for Biden and Trump. And we have published a 12-chapter Fact and Issues Guide that lays out the challenges and opportunities that define Michigan, from health care to education.

Bridge has also dug deep on election security, voter intimidation and other election issues to help you prepare before you head to the polls. 

Finally, don’t forget to regularly check the Elections Tracker for breaking news about campaign stops, polls and Twitter feuds. 

Related:

Read local news

Many local and regional news outlets publish candidate questionnaires and write stories about local ballot measures and races. 

You can learn more about the issues on your ballot by browsing election coverage from your favorite local news outlets. If you live in metro Detroit, try The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. Grand Rapids? Your local paper is the Grand Rapids Press. In Lansing, it’s the Lansing State Journal. If you live somewhere else, consider scanning the site of your local paper or TV news outlet. 

Be careful to make sure you’re getting your information from reliable sources, though. Partisan sites masquerading as unbiased news sources have been cropping up across the nation, including in Michigan.

Remember: The Supreme Court race is nonpartisan, but parties help choose candidates  

On the back of your ballot, you’ll have the option of casting your vote to fill two seats on the Michigan Supreme Court. What you won’t see: a party affiliation listed next to any of the candidates’ names. 

That’s because the Supreme Court is considered a nonpartisan body. But high court candidates do have political ties. In Michigan, they’re nominated by political parties, and that’s probably something you would want to know. You can read up on each candidate’s views and political backers in this report from Bridge’s Mansur Shaheen. 

And remember: If you’re a straight-party ticket voter, filling in the straight-party bubble at the top of your ballot will not automatically select Supreme Court candidates whose political views most align with yours. Straight-party votes only apply to partisan races. You need to pick court candidates on your own. 

Related:

Don’t overlook local races

Perhaps most impactful on your day-to-day life, yet least likely to get a lot of ink in the press, are those races for local school boards, city councils, township boards, road commissions and the like.

That can make these races among the hardest to research. But with a little time and some deft web browsing, you can educate yourself before voting in these down-ballot races, too.

First, it helps to know a bit about key issues in your local community and develop your stance on them. Turn to your local news outlets, which have likely covered the latest drama within your school district or municipal government. 

Once you have a good sense of the issues at hand, start researching to learn more about candidates’ stances on the issues that matter to you. This is another instance in which local news outlets can prove invaluable.

Vote411 can also be a great resource if your local candidates have filled out the League’s questionnaires. If you live in one of Michigan’s biggest cities, you might also find candidate questionnaires on Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan election encyclopedia.

If you can’t find any good information in the news or on a nonpartisan election site, try searching candidates’ names in your web browser. Many candidates maintain campaign websites or social media pages where voters can learn about their policy positions.

But be careful to vet the information for accuracy. As frequent  Fact Squad readers already know, candidates’ campaign rhetoric isn’t always entirely truthful.

Still not registered? Here’s how. 

You can find out whether you’re registered to vote by entering your voter information here

You’re eligible to vote if you’re a Michigan resident over the age of 18, who is a U.S. citizen, who isn't serving a jail or prison sentence after conviction, and who will have lived in Michigan for at least 30 days by Election Day. 

If you’re eligible to vote but not yet registered, it’s too late to register online in time for Tuesday’s election. However, you can still register and vote on-site until 8 p.m. on Nov. 3 at your local clerk’s office

Be sure to bring proof of your address. A driver’s license, utility bill, pay stub or other valid document will do.

Voting in-person? Find your polling place.

If you plan to vote in-person on Election Day, you’ll need to make sure you show up at the right polling location. Find your polling site here and learn more about what to expect when voting in-person here

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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