Question 1): Late last week, news broke that the former wife of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Brian ZAHRA told NBC News that he paid to abort her pregnancy when they were dating 39 years ago. This would seem to conflict with Zahra’s decision earlier this year to keep the proposed abortion constitutional amendment, Proposal 3, off the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Alyssa JONES said the abortion happened when she was 20, a college sophomore, and he was 23 and a year away from enrolling in law school. She said she was grateful to have had the option available to them back then. Jones told NBC News that he drove her to the abortion clinic twice, once to confirm the pregnancy and once for the abortion.
Michigan’s law regarding abortion post-Dobbs is a 1931 law that makes abortion illegal except in cases to save the life of the mother. Gov. Gretchen WHITMER is challenging the constitutionality of that law, and she’s won in court up to this point.
If Proposal 3 is not approved by voters on 11/8, it’s highly likely Zahra, if he’s re-elected, will get a chance to weigh in on Whitmer’s suit.
“It’s the height of hypocrisy that Justice Brian Zahra would use his position to restrict access to abortion except when it benefits his life and career,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora BARNES. “Zahra is happy to go along with restricting access to abortion for women in Michigan when it comes with gobs of contributions from anti-choice organizations for his campaign, but it’s a different story when it comes to his personal life.” Zahra hasn’t disputed Jones’s account.
The question is, will this blockbuster last-minute development derail Zahra’s re-election bid?
Answer 1): Probably not, because it comes TOO late in the campaign for two seats on the state Supreme Court, especially since such a high number of absentee votes have already been cast, maybe as much as 40% of the total. That alone may save Zahra. Keep in mind that candidates for the high bench run as non-partisans, even though they have been nominated and/or appointed by partisan conventions or governors. Moreover, uniquely among Michigan elected officials, judicial incumbents of all stripes (from the Supreme Court on down), bear the title of their office below their names, giving them a hefty advantage over challengers. As much as a third of the electorate doesn’t even vote for judicial candidates near the bottom of the ballot, and, of those who do, the names of the sitting justices/judges are unknown to most of the electorate, who therefore generally plunk for the sitting jurist unless there is something widely known about him that could be disqualifying. This year, as usual, the Supreme Court candidates run in a “pack.” That means there are no one-on-one contests — the five candidates running this year, including two Democrats and two Republicans — are all lumped together, and voters can vote for up to two of them. The top two finishers both are elected. Zahra could be re-elected by simply finishing runnrup behind the other incumbent running, Democrat Richard Bernstein. In 2014, a variation of this year’s race happened, and Zahra, who bore the “incumbency designation” beneath his name, actually finished first. Bernstein, who was not an incumbent, finished second, and they both were elected. This year, it has been anticipated that Bernstein, who will now also have the incumbency designation along with Zahra, will probably finish first even without the 11th hour controversy. The question is, if Zahra is dragged down by what just happened, who will benefit? Probably state Rep. Kyra Bolden (D-Southfield), the other Democratic nominee. If Bolden wins, it would give the Democrats a comfortable 5-2 majority on the court, which they now control, 4-3. But Bolden is little known and hasn’t had the financial resources to thrust herself into the conversation about who should be elected. So Zahra will probably escape defeat, even though, if Bernstein is elected, the Democrats will still have a 4-3 majority, possibly bolstered by a straying Republican, Elizabeth Clement, who sometimes votes with the Democrats on critical litigation.
Question 2): General Election turnout is projected at 4 Million, the highest Michigan turnout in history in a mid-presidential term except for 2018.
As of the end of last week, the Democratic political data firm TargetSmart reported more than 1.2 million absentee voters across Michigan have cast their ballots. An estimated 61 percent of them are likely Democrats, according to data compiled by a national nonpartisan voter data provider. Bridge Michigan reviewed data provided by the firm L2, which matched voter identifications of all returned ballots through Nov. 2 with voting histories in the last presidential primary.
According to L2’s analysis:
- 61.4 percent of the absentee voters favored Democrats in the 2020 primary, compared to 33 percent who are likely Republicans.
- Just over 60 percent of all absentee voters are 65 or older. That age group makes up just 25 percent of all registered voters.
- Younger voters, those 18 to 29, comprise 5.4 percent of absentee voters but 17.7 percent of registered voters.
- Women comprise nearly 56.5 percent of absentee voters, compared to 51.5 percent of all registered voters.
Statewide, absentee ballots are up 60 percent from this time in 2018, but pacing far behind 2020 levels. A week before the 2020 election, 2.1 million ballots had been returned. But in that election in the midst of COVID, every voter had received an absentee ballot application. Not this time. In 2018, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was elected, 4.3 million people voted. That was the highest turnout ever for a Michigan gubernatorial election.
However, voter turnout in Detroit this year is projected to be only in the 28% to 33% range, which would be closer to the 31% turnout that occurred in the city during former Republican Gov. Rick SNYDER‘s election years in 2010 and 2014. That stands in contrast to the 41% presence Detroit voters had in November, 2018, which was a Democratic wave year in which Gretchen WHITMER was elected..
But Michigan Democrats think they have an ace in the hole — they are taking greater advantage than Republicans of the new era of smart phones and laptops that they believe will pay off in 11/8 balloting. Among all races, Democrats have spent nearly $8.7 million on digital advertising while Republicans overall have spent less than $1.8 million on Meta and Google platforms, based on an analysis of online spending by the paid media tracking service AdImpact. The gubernatorial race has the Democrats spending nearly $4.5 million on digital advertising, whereas the GOP has spent only $264,346.
Also, Democrats are heartened by the number of women 35 years old and younger who applied for absentee ballots through Oct. 31, which has nearly tripled since Michigan’s last midterm election in 2018. That’s the reason one election expert is projecting a 10,000-20,000 increase in young women voters on 11/8. In 2018, 48,177 women aged 18-35 applied for an absentee ballot, according to an analysis from Practical Political Consulting (PPC). In 2022, that number has shot up to 134,582. This increase is not an apples-to-apples comparison, though, because the pandemic year of 2020 dramatically changed voting habits, and no-reason absentee voting did not exist in 2018. This increase would be equal to .5% of the 4 million who it is estimated will vote, which seems miniscule but could make an impact in a tight election.
Democrats are also hailing a study by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), which finds that women appear to have maintained an edge when it comes to showing up to vote. For example, in 2018, 55% of eligible female voters participated in their respected midterm elections across the U.S. while, for eligible male voters, the turnout was less than 52%.
In 2014, the differences were 43% for women and 40.8% for men, and 46.2% for women and 44.8% for men in 2010.
Additionally in Michigan, according to Democratic political data firm TargetSmart, more than 56% of the absentee ballots cast in Michigan so far this yea rout of at least 1.2 million reportedly came from women, and 43.5% came from men.
Even in 2018, before Proposal 3 of 2018 enshrined no-excuse absentee voting into Michigan’s constitution, women still made up 56.5% of absentee voters and men made up 43.5%.
The question is, with multiple competitive races depending on women voters — whether they be single females or suburban mothers — will their presence be a splash or a tsunami? And will big spending on digital media pay off at the polls? Or will these possible Democratic advantages be offset by low turnout in Detroit, or by higher turnout and voting behavior by other groups, gender-based or otherwise, or by voters who don’t spend time online?
Answer 2): Detroit has nowhere near the impact on Michigan elections it once did. It once accounted for nearly a third of the total Michigan vote in any election; now, it’s down to about 6%. Detroit was once America’s 5th biggest city; now it’s 23rd and dropping. It once had nearly $2 million inhabitants; now it’s down to some 650,000. So if its turnout is only 30% as opposed to 41%, as it was in 2018, that’s not very important in the larger scheme of things. Yes, the increased participation of younger women statewide in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision could give an edge to Democrats if they are overwhelmingly pro-choice on abortion, but are they? Or will a substantial percentage of them behave at the ballot box like all other voters, who are shown to be driven by anger at inflation and supply chain failures and vote accordingly? As for digital advertising, we’re in uncharted territory. Until now, there has been no way to compare the impact of an online spending advantage by one party over the other with actual election results, as in victory vs. defeat. However, with the skyrocketing rise of social media, maybe we’re about to find out if there is an answer to that question this year.
Question 3): What are the KEY SENATE AND HOUSE RACES that will determine which of the two major parties will control the state Senate and House of Representatives beginning in January, 2023?
Answer 3): They are, in the state House of Representatives, the 27th District (Downriver Wayne Co.) — Democrat Jamie Churches v. Republican Bob Howey; the 29th (Downriver Wayne Co.) — Democrat Alex Garza v. Republican James DeSana; 38th (SW Michigan shoreline) — Democrat Joey Andrews v. Republican Kevin Whiteford; 54th (Orion/Oxford/Bloomfield Hills) — Democrat Shadia Martini v. Republican Donnie Steele; 58th (Macomb Co.) — Democrat Nate Shannon v. Republican Michele Smith; 61st (Macomb Co.) — Democrat Denise Mentzer v. Republican Mike Aiello; 83rd (Wyoming) — Democrat John Fitzgerald v. Republican Lisa DeKryger; 103rd (Traverse City/Leelanau) — Democrat Betsy Coffia v. Republican Jack O’Malley; and the 107th (Marquette area) — Democrat Jenn Hill v. Republican Melody Wagner.
In the Senate, they are the 11th (Macomb Co.) — Democrat Veronica Klinefelt v. Republican Mike McDonald; 12th (SE Macomb C0/Grosse Pointes) — Democrat Kevin Hertel v. Republican Pam Hornberger; 30th (Kent Co.) — Democrat David LaGrand v. Republican Mark Huizenga; and the 35th (Democrat Kristin McDonald Rivet v. Republican Annette Glenn).
Whichever party wins a majority of these brand-new seats fashioned by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission will likely control the respective chambers.
Pat Laughlin says
Astute observations Bill!
This is the most fascinating election I call recall; multiple variables that are difficult to quantify.
John C Stewart says
Bill Ballenger nails it-Absentee voters, smart phones & laptops favor Democrats. If Gretchen Whitmer wins re-election, especially in an off-year Statewide election, this is a HUGE MESSAGE TO REPUBLICANS.
REPUBLICANS HAVE WON ONLY TWO (2) STATEWIDE ELECTIONS-RICK SNYDER-IN THE LAST 24 YEARS– SINCE JOHN ENGLER’S RE-ELECTION OF 1998.
Republicans will never win a STATEWIDE ELECTION again unless, they nominate a moderate candidate. Bill Ballenger recently stated, “Bill Milliken, Republican Governor of 14 years (1969-1983) is the closest WE HAVE HAD TO A BI-PARTISAN SAINT”
REPUBLICANS HAVE TO DECIDE IF THEY WANT TO WIN or go off on ideological tangents.
Timothy K SULLIVAN says
I beg to differ. John Engler won re-election against Howard Wolpe and Geoffrey Feiger, neither of whom stood a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning. Feiger was so toxic that the family of s Democratic office holder (who still holds elective office so he will remain anonymous for now) told him they would not pass out HIS literature if Feiger’s name was on it. His literature didn’t so they passed it out for him in a solidly Democratic district. And of all the adjectives I would be inclined to use to describe His Corpulence, moderate is NOT one of them.
As for The Nerd, Synder also had a relative political non-entity, former state senator and one term Congressman Mark Schauer, as his opponent for re-election. And Schauer would only run if the Democratic Party cleared the deck for him in the primary. 2014 was a blow out and red wave year for Republicans, but Snyder got a smidgen less than 51% of the vote and Schauer a smidgen less than 47%. Gretchen Whitmer was thinking of running, but after establishing a campaign entourage and looking like a candidate, she opted out. Whitmer could, and probably would, have beaten him. Moderate is also an adjective I would not use to describe Snyder whose policies seemed to be whatever was good for business is good for the rest of us. No matter how much it hurt.
And as for this election cycle and Dixon, traditional Republicans and business interests, outside of a last-minute endorsement by the Chamber (without much if any money), haven’t done much for her or the rest of the ticket. If she does win, it might, just maybe, be the beginning of the end of the marriage between the MI Republicans and business. Not only would that be fun to watch (I admit I would find some gratification watching business interests scramble about to get in with someone’s good graces), but it would be a never-ending source of stories for the Ballenger Report! That we could all enjoy in 2023 and beyond.
Isaac Emerson says
Justice Zahra has refused to comment on the ‘conveniently’ timed and vindictive story by his ex-wife because of cases likely to come before him. He is a man of impeccable integrity and, like the rest of us, not the same man he was 39 years ago. Do not presume that one side of the story is the full story.