(April 3) The votes have been certified from Michigan’s Presidential Primary Election nearly a month ago, and, as nearly everyone knows, voter participation set records.
But which party actually drew the most voters? The Republicans, but it was close, and it would have been surprising if the GOP didn’t draw more registrants, because they had more candidates on the ballot, even if some of them had already dropped out of the presidential sweepstakes.
The aggregate total for all candidates, Democrat and Republican, was 2,529,141. Of that number, 1,323,589 cast their ballots for Republicans Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, or 10 other candidates (including Marco Rubio, who was still running at the time) as well as “uncommitted.”
1,205,552 voted on the Democratic side either for Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley (who had dropped out by March 8), a virtually unknown fourth candidate, or “uncommitted.”
That shattered the record set way back in 1972 for voter turnout in a Michigan presidential primary. Why did it take 44 years to break that record? Because this year’s election was really the first time since 1972 that Michigan had full-fledged contests on both major parties’ tickets in an open-seat race where the Democratic and Republican organizational hierarchy actually sanctioned the results of the election (as opposed to its simply being on the ballot by law) and pledged to honor what the voters decided.
Most presidential contests have been boycotted by Michigan Democrats, particularly in recent years, because of their suspicion and distrust about the legitimacy of the possible outcomes. Michigan’s primary is “open,” meaning that any registered voter can vote in either party’s primary (but not both), opening up the possibility that voters who were or are not bona fide Democrats could vote in the Dem contest and potentially “skew” the results.
Of course, that could also happen to the Republicans, and it has. Back in 2000, John McCain won the GOP contest in Michigan over George W. Bush largely on the strength of votes from independents and Democrats who “crossed over” and voted for the Arizona Senator instead of casting their ballots on the Democratic side, where Al Gore already had the nomination virtually clinched. Exit polls and post-election analysis showed that if the primary had been “closed” and only those who were “legitimate” Republicans had voted, Bush would have won.
Democrats had their own embarrassment back in 1972, when they suspect tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of Republicans and independents “raided” their presidential primary to vote for George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, rather than Ed Muskie, George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, or other establishment liberal candidates warmly embraced by the state’s labor unions and party establishment. Wallace’s huge upset win in Michigan was a nasty shock to Dem pooh-bahs that they haven’t forgotten.
As a result, most Democratic primaries may have been on the ballot but it was in “name only,” as the party hierarchy made plain it would determine its delegate line-up for its national party convention at closed caucuses and state party conclaves, and that prez primary balloting would be ignored.
In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama made it clear that he would not participate in Michigan’s Democratic primary which Hillary Clinton then won virtually unopposed.
We know who had the most delegates at the Democratic National Convention later that summer.