Local officials encourage people to vote

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 24, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — Madison Heights City Councilwoman Kymm Clark knows that every vote counts in an election. When she won her seat last year, she did so by a difference of three votes, ousting incumbent Robert Gettings.

And the support that Gettings received was not in vain, either. As the runner-up, he is slated to return to the council once the new mayor is appointed. It is anticipated that he will fill the vacancy left by Brian Hartwell when the mayor resigned to serve as judge of 43rd District Court in Hazel Park.

It just goes to show how anything can happen in an election — and how anyone’s vote can tip the scales.

On Aug. 4, there is a primary election in Michigan. Then, in November, voters will decide the next president of the United States, among other things. These important decisions come at a time when a pandemic has disrupted the normal rhythms of society, imposing restrictions on gatherings in public places and changing how people conduct their daily affairs. But Clark and other officials want to remind people that it’s their civic duty to vote — and every vote counts.

“My story lends well to demonstrating the impact of the individual vote,” Clark said, noting she ran with no prior political experience — only a desire to lead. She had already been involved in efforts to help the city’s homeless population, and she had ideas for improving the community’s quality of life. So she ran against three incumbents, and by a narrow margin she was among those who made the cut.

This year, she is running a campaign of a different sort, one that she is promoting with the social media hashtag #DontForgetToVote. Clark’s goal is to increase voter turnout, especially among younger voters, and to empower them with the knowledge to vote.

One helpful resource that Clark recommends is the official website for the Michigan Secretary of State: michigan.gov/sos. From the main page, scroll down to find links for voter registration and polling locations. For a list of what’s on the ballot for the primary election Aug. 4, click the “Elections” tab at the top of the page, and then scroll down to the green tab in the middle with the election’s date.

“What has been working for me in my conversations with young voters is to show them locally what their vote is capable of,” Clark said. “Many young people leave their hometowns to find the amenities and conveniences of towns they love to visit. What our young people are just waking up to is the potential within them … to be a part of that development in their own city — to literally help shape what they would like to see around them.

“It’s not all about the two-party system. In fact, much of it isn’t at all. I use my run for City Council as a demonstration,” she said. “I ran for council so I could help push the development in this city in the way I saw cities around us moving. Madison Heights seemed to be at a standstill. We were a couple years into a 20-year plan to develop a downtown, and I just thought to myself: Why so long? I didn’t want our city to fall through the cracks while the world developed around us.”

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor pro tem of Madison Heights, encourages people to consider voting absentee, givien the current health crisis, and to reconfirm their polling locations.

“Our democracy is based on the fundamental right to vote,” Grafstein said. “Every vote matters — this was evident in our 2019 election, when Kymm Clark won the council election by three votes, and Proposal MH (to increase the millage for the city’s charter) passed by a narrow margin.

“Michigan voters now have the option to vote absentee,” she said, “and I encourage residents who are not comfortable going to the polls to take advantage of this option.”

Hazel Park City Councilman Andy LeCureaux said that he’s been telling people to not pass up the primary election.

“I’ve long encouraged voting in the primary, because too few voters in primaries leaves us with a smaller pool of voters choosing who the larger pool get to choose from in the general election,” LeCureaux said. “Often this also causes some candidates to play to the party base, and results in more extreme candidates winning primaries.

“Most voters in my opinion fall in the middle most of the time, but they end up getting extreme choices in the general election because they don’t use their voice in the primary. You can have a bigger impact by getting out and voting in the primaries,” he said. “I think also that the coronavirus is going to make it easier to cast votes electronically, and this should result in great participation.”

Mark Bliss, a member of the Madison Heights City Council, said that the voice of younger generations is often under-represented in elections, and he wishes to see that changed.

“As a millennial, I’m a part of a generation that’s been known for not voting in high numbers. When I cast my first ballot at 18, I wanted to make sure my voice, and the voice of my generation, was represented,” Bliss said. “That’s also partly why I ran for office, and seven years after being elected I’m still the youngest member of council. Voting matters, and if enough likeminded people vote together, they can make big changes. Likewise, if likeminded people stay home, then they defer their voice to other groups that may or may not have the same priorities.

“I believe the lack of restrictions on absentee voting and new technology that speeds up in-person voting will both play a role in increasing turnout, as will social media, where many people who normally wouldn’t have voted will now have more awareness that an election is taking place,” he said. “Our clerk’s office has been actively working to make it as easy as possible to vote, and I believe that will be evident as people cast their ballots in November.”