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5 lessons from Tuesday's primary election | Opinion

The ballots have been counted (mostly), the November election ballot is set (almost), and the first pandemic-era presidential election is less than 100 days away. 

Here's what Tuesday's primary election told us about what's in Michigan's future.

1. Conducting an orderly election in which most voters cast ballots by mail is possible — but Michigan has a lot of work to do before it's ready for a presidential election that's likely to attract more than twice as many absentee voters.

A record 1.6 million voters cast absentee ballots in Tuesday's primary, shattering records for any previous election, including presidential contests.

And the good news is that none of the catastrophic scenarios skeptics warned about materialized.

But plenty of voters who requested absentee ballots didn't receive them in time to return them by mail. Detroit and a few other municipalities were short of the poll workers needed to handle a lighter-than-usual in-person turnout. And the unnecessarily burdensome counting process prescribed by Michigan law delayed results in many races well into Wednesday.

State lawmakers, county and municipal election clerks, and a United States Postal Service under siege by President Donald Trump himself will all have to do better if Michigan is to avert an electoral meltdown on Nov. 3.

2. Democrats are poised to wrest Oakland County government from Republican control — but some of the most familiar Democrats will be watching from the sidelines.

Republicans lost their hammerlock on Michigan's richest county 12 years ago, when Prosecutor Jessica Cooper and Treasurer Andy Meisner became the first Democrats in memory to win countywide office. But the dam really burst in 2018, when Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin flipped historically Republican congressional seats and Democrats unexpectedly won an 11-10 majority on the Oakland Board of County Commissioners.

More: Dave Coulter wins Democratic nomination for Oakland County executive

More: Big-spending Shri Thanedar appears headed for seat in Michigan Legislature

The latter development paved the way for Democrat Dave Coulter' s appointment to succeed longtime County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who died less August less than three years into his last term. By the time the 2020 campaign began in earnest, the demographic tide had turned so decisively that neither of the county's most formidable Republicans, long-time Sheriff Mike Bouchard and former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, believed Republicans could reclaim the county's top job. 

No brand-name Republican has emerged to challenge Stevens or Slotkin, either.

But ironically — or perhaps inevitably, given the inexorable march of time — neither of the two Democrats who broke the Republican monopoly in 2008 will exercise a leadership role in the new, bluer Oakland County. Former Oakland Circuit Judge Karen McDonald routed Cooper in Tuesday's Democratic primary for prosecutor, and Meisner, once a prohibitive favorite to be the first Democratic county executive, failed in a desperate, scorched-earth campaign to defeat Coulter.

Cooper, 74, is unlikely to seek public office again. Meisner, 47, has time to muster a second act, but only after mending the myriad fences he destroyed in an ugly campaign.

3. Pete Lucido's adventures in sexual harassment may have ruined his gubernatorial prospects, but Macomb County Republicans still love him. 

As 2020 dawned, the charismatic Republican state senator was a leading contender for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2022. Then Lucido's maladroit response to allegations he had behaved inappropriately with journalists and legislative colleagues of the opposite gender made him a pariah in Lansing, prompting Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, to strip him of a committee chairmanship.

Ever the pragmatist, Lucido lowered his sights. When incumbent Macomb County prosecutor abruptly surrendered his seat after being indicted on corruption charges, Lucido pounced at the opportunity, and Tuesday he trounced a more-experienced, but lesser-known, rival in the Republican primary.

Lucido will have his hands full in a November election contest with former Macomb Circuit Judge Mary Chrzanowski, who bested four other candidates in a highly competitive Democratic primary. But his strong showing Tuesday suggests that the county's Republican voters, at least, are eager to forgive and forget his #metoo-era transgressions.

4. Detroit voters still trust Kym Worthy to be a change agent.

The incumbent Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy cruised to her fifth term Tuesday night, brushing off allegations she's become too cozy with a police department many Black Detroiters distrust. Although some votes were still uncounted Wednesday, Worthy held a formidable 25-point lead over progressive challenger Victoria Burton-Harris, easily besting the latter in both Detroit and its Wayne County suburbs.

Still, the ongoing protests triggered by George Floyd's death have exposed serious and abiding tensions between the Detroit Police Department and the residents it exists to protect and serve, and Burton-Harris' critique of local law enforcement clearly touched a nerve with many young Detroiters. 

Worthy's victory is less a repudiation of her opponent's call for wholesale reform of the criminal justice system than a vote of confidence in the incumbent's determination to pursue it. Worthy has aggressively prosecuted corrupt cops, pioneered diversionary treatment courts and launched the county’s Conviction Integrity Unit. She recognizes the need for to decriminalize low-level offenses and address structural changes the root causes of crime, and now voters have given her another four years to advance those objectives.

5. Shri Thanedar may not be rich enough to buy a statewide gubernatorial election — but a humble seat in the state Legislature is another matter.

Thanedar, a free-spending businessman with little support from traditional Democratic constituencies, came under fire for spending $440,000 — more than the rest of his seven rivals combined — in his campaign for a seat representing Detroit in the Michigan House of Representatives.

But Thanedar's generosity to his own campaign propelled him to a first-place finish in Tuesday's primary. He's a cinch to claim term-limited Rep. Wendell Byrd's seat in November — and for a fraction of the $10 million he spent to achieve a third-place finish in the Democratic gubernatorial primary two years ago.

Brian Dickerson is the Editorial Page Editor of the Free Press. Contact him at bdickerson@freepress.com.

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