Why Voting In Detroit Is A Bigger Deal Than Your Car Insurance Payment

After I move the status of this rambling from "Draft" to "Now" and hit "Publish," I'm going to walk up to my polling place (St. Paul AME Zion Church on Dexter Boulevard), stand in line with everybody else in my neighborhood and vote in the Detroit primary.

It's predicted that only a quarter or maybe even a third of the population will be doing this, but considering that the general election in November is shaping up to be one of the most historic elections in years, that number might be higher.

Some people might not be voting because, well, what's the use? The bankrupt city is governed by an emergency manager, anyway, and even though there are timelines for the city to exit bankruptcy and/or return to electoral control, other cities and school districts in Michigan have been under state oversight for years at a time. And maybe people aren't voting because they're just frustrated and feeling like it won't count even if these circumstances didn't exist.

At least those in that position have the option to vote in Detroit. Bridge Magazine quotes a figure showing more than 560,000 registered voters in the city limits. City Clerk Janice Winfrey says about 100,000 are those are inactive voters. But if the population still stands around 700,000, then — at least on the surface — more than half of the city's population is eligible to vote. (Bridge also notes that other large cities have low turnout rates, so hold your "Detroit doesn't vote" comments.)

But Bridge deep-dives into a bigger issue with people who live in the city and can't vote, because changing their address would also mean changing their vehicle registration and car insurance — and if you live in Detroit, you're guaranteed to pay a higher rate than anywhere else in the state:

“Everybody talks about it, obviously it’s something a lot of people are doing,” said one 25-year-old man we’ll call Scott.

Scott lives downtown, but is registered to vote in a suburb west of Detroit. The same address is on his driver’s license, and his insurance company believes that’s where his car is parked. He is politically active in Detroit, and has worked for candidates. But when he does the math, he has to ask himself a question:

“Is my vote worth the few thousand dollars it would cost me? No campaign (from a Detroit candidate) could ever convince a significant number of people to suffer that pain.”

This is problematic, because, as Bridge and several other publications have noted, Midtown, Corktown and Downtown have seen an influx in new residents and are among the three areas seeing the greatest population gains even as other neighborhoods see declines.

You can't put stats on who exactly is not voting, but you can make some deductions based on other data: MidCorkDown is increasingly white, according to Detroit 7.2, and Detroit's suburbs are mostly white, where "Scott" (and others, assuming) are registered.

Frankly, anyone who doesn't exercise their right to vote — black, white, whoever — is making a short-sighted choice. But it's especially troubling when (trying to be delicate as possible so Detroit Redditors don't call me Jesse Jackson again — don't wanna be the angry black guy!) new residents' values don't appear to be in step with those of existing ones.

It's not about gentrification or alleged hipster takeovers or solutionism, but rather basic history: African-Americans were, up until not so long ago, denied the right to vote. And there are people old enough here to remember such days.

It almost feels like a smack in the face that anyone, regardless of race, would play fast and loose with a privilege that would not have been available to the vast majority of the population years ago. But if you ever wonder why there's so much unspoken tension between the "new" residents and the "old" residents, then here's why.

"Scott" gets to go around and encourage voting for a particular candidate but won't be voting for that candidate himself. It not only reeks of Bart vs. Martin in the battle for Fourth Grade Presidency, but for a fairly new resident to, in essence, tell an older resident what they should be doing with their residency...am I the only one who sees an issue with that?

Not only that, but the practice of staying registered in the suburbs is an option many residents have never had, or will never have. It's a cushion that protects against being fleeced by insurance companies, and yes that's an issue that needs to be addressed separately — but for the residents who are putting up with the higher rates, how have they been going about it all this time?

But what causes the most discomfort about this civic duty is how it's tied to the "live, work, play" philosophy that boosters throw around when they want to recruit more people to Detroit. What kind of message does it send when new residents (again, regardless of race) come to play, but not come for the serious stuff? We say things like "Detroit is not your Disneyland," but it sure seems that way, doesn't it?

So, I'm not going to wag my finger at everyone not voting today. I understand there are circumstances and maybe one day legislators will figure out that we've got a big problem with insurance rates around here. But I will ask — what are you going to do to get your shit together for the next election? Like I said earlier, if some people have figured it out, what's stopping you?

And for all the crowing people like to make about being a part of the renaissance and watching Detroit rise again and all that BS — this is the first election in decades that we're voting by districts, and if public opinion follows media endorsements, we might have the most age- and race-diverse body of local politicians in who knows how long. (Take a shot every time the Freep, News or Crain's unnecessarily writes "could be the first white mayor since..." if Duggan's write-in campaign advances to the next round. WE GET IT GUYS, MIKE DUGGAN IS A BIG OL' CAUCASIAN WHITE GUY.) How anyone could miss out on being a part of that instead of just hanging around until the bankruptcy clears is absolutely baffling.