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Four MI Congressional races and a surge in absentee ballots: What we're following this primary

absentee ballot and envelope
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio

In a year marked by a pandemic and a large social justice movement, many Michiganders will be heading to the polls on August 4 to cast votes in a wide array of primary campaigns and initiatives. Rather, many Michiganders - nearly two million of them - will be casting absentee ballots across the state in what is sure to be a primary unlike the state has seen before. 

Here's a look at the four major primaries we're keeping an eye on, as well as how to ensure your ballot is counted in this unprecedented voting year. 


3rd Congressional District: U.S. Representative

3rd congressional district candidates
From left: Tom Norton; Peter Meijer; Lynn Afendoulis; Joe Farrington; Emily Rafi; Hillary Scholten.

When U.S. Rep. Justin Amash announced in April he waslaunching a presidential exploratory committee, political Twitter was abuzz. He created a similar buzz last summer when he announced he was "declaring his independence" to focus on a current issue in the United States: the two-party system.

Amash announced in May he was ending his presidential bid because “circumstances don’t lend themselves to my success as a candidate for president this year,” and earlier this month, via Twitter, appeared to confirm reports that he would not be seeking re-election for his Congressional seat. Amash has held the seat since 2011.

In the midst of all of this, numerous candidates have popped up in the 3rd Congressional District, which includes the city of Grand Rapids and Ionia, Barry, and Calhoun counties. The district has traditionally gone red in previous elections.

For the Democratic Party, five candidates announced they were running, but four did not make the ballot or have since withdrawn, leaving Hillary Scholten as the only candidate still in the running. Scholten worked for the Department of Justice under the Obama administration and then joined the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center as a staff attorney. Michigan Radio's Dustin Dwyer reported in 2019that "only one other Democrat, Richard Vander Veen, has been elected to represent the Grand Rapids area in Congress in the past 100 years." 

“We know that the people of west Michigan care about the things I care about,” Scholten said when she announced her run in 2019. “Having accessible, affordable health care for all Americans, supporting our public schools and ending gun violence.”

Under the Republican Party, eight candidates announced they were running, but only five have made it to the primary ballot.

Lynn Afendoulis currently serves District 73 of the Michigan House, and has since 2019. Afendoulis was a newspaper journalist before turning to a career in business. According to a statement on her website, Afendoulis is running because "West Michigan needs someone who will actively represent them and will work with President Trump to defend our borders, stand up to China, and protect the American Dream." You can learn more about her decision to run.

Thirty-one-year-old Peter Meijer, grandson of the late retail industry titan Fred Meijer, is also in the running on the Republican ticket. 

“We need to secure our borders. We need to bring our troops home from senseless wars," Meijer said when he announced his campaign in 2019. “And we need health care to not bankrupt families and education should be within reach.” 

Last fall, the ACLU of Michigan filed formal complaint of discrimination against Meijer after he barred "London-based act Drag Syndrome from performing at his venue, the Tanglefoot Building, during Grand Rapids’ annual ArtPrize event," according to reporting by Michigan Radio's Caroline Llanes. 

Also running is Joe Farrington, a former school teacher and current bar owner from Ionia. In a debate between Republican candidates last winter, Farrington was the "only one who openly criticized President Trump during the debate, calling the tax cuts 'nonsense,' and saying he thinks the border wall is a bad idea. He also drew shouts after declaring himself 'pro-choice' during the debate," Dwyer reported.

“I was the first candidate to file against Justin Amash,” Tom Norton, of Sand Lake, said at the same debate. “I filed because we weren’t being represented at all.” 

Norton is a former village president in Kent County and a former member of the Army National Guard. 

Rounding out the candidates is Emily Rafi, who initially planned to run as a Democrat before switching to the Republican Party. Rafi is a business transaction attorney and has not held an office before. According to a statement on her website, "The Democratic Party ignores the will of the American people and is therefore un-Democratic, un-American and is not operating in our Nation’s best interest."

8th Congressional District: U.S. Representative

political candidates in front of american flag
Credit Katie Raymond / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Some of the Republican candidates in the 8th Congressional District at a forum in February 2020.

Current incumbent U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D) faces opposition from four Republican candidates in the 8th District, a district "drawn (and redrawn) to increasingly favor Republicans. GOP congressmen held the seat for nearly 20 years, and voters went for Trump in 2016. Then, in 2018, it flipped, booting out incumbent Mike Bishop and electing political newcomer Slotkin," according to Michigan Radio's political reporting project, The 8th. The 8th District includes Ingham County, Livingston County, and Oakland County. 

Howell resident Mike Detmer first began campaigning for the state legislature before turning his sights on the congressional seat. According to reporting from Michigan Radio's Kate Wells, Detmer has "campaigned heavily on being a 'grassroots' candidate, appealing to conservative groups active on Facebook and showing up to a gun rights rally and a Livingston County meeting about creating a Second Amendment 'sanctuary.'”

From Wells: Alan Hoover, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, is a vocal advocate for veterans’ issues and stresses his powerful personal story growing up in poverty. He refers to his military service frequently, and talks about “the deep state” he believes liberals are using to undermine the country.

Paul Junge is a former prosecutor and Lansing news anchor. According to 2019 FEC filings, Junge has raised approximately $273,000, the most of any candidate at the time. “Ladies and gentlemen, we would all be good Repbulican votes. But we’ll need financial resources to defeat Slotkin and the left wing,” Junge told a crowd at a candidate forum in February. 

Kristina Lyke is a family law attorney with a private practice in Lansing. On her website, Lyke explains that she's running because "our Constitutional rights are under attack by the radical left. Our current representative, Elissa Slotkin, is too obsessed with her hatred for the President to effectively represent our district."

For a more in depth look at the candidates, read more of Kate Wells's reporting on The 8th

11th Congressional District: U.S. Representative

11th congressional district candidates
From left: Rep. Haley Stevens; Whittney Williams; Erick Eshhaki; Frank Acosta; Kerry Bentivolio; Carmelita Greco

Current incumbment U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D) faces opposition from five Republican candidates in the 11th Congressional District, which includes portions of Oakland and Wayne counties. Stevens has served the district since 2019, following the retirement of Rep. David Trott (R). 

Frank Acosta is running because "the current Democrat majority in the House of Representatives is leading this country off a cliff. Rather than legislate, they only produce media sound bites," according to a statement on his website. Acosta supports right-to-life initiatives, "intelligent immigration" and border securities, and the appointment of Constitutional originalist judges. 

Kerry Bentivolio previously served as the representative for the 11th District from 2013 to 2015. He ran as a write-in candidate against Trott in 2014, losing by a large margin. Bentivolio also ran in 2018, but finished last in the primary. He was an educator for 15 years and served in the U.S. Army, both in Vietnam and Operation Iraqi Freedom. On his website, Bentivolio describes himself as a "constitutional conservative with libertarian leanings," and "believes in individual liberties and hopes to avoid careless foreign intervention." 

On her website, Carmelita Greco describes herself as a mother, entrepreneur, and non-profit leader. In a statement on the site, Greco says she's running "because she understands that we need people in Washington who stand for the principles of lower taxes, less government and more freedom." 

Eric Esshaki, a lawyer from Birmingham, announced his campaign in November. "I think that we need to focus on health care, I think we need to focus on the economy, I think we need to focus on education. And quite frankly, at a higher level, I think we need to focus on having a discourse that's civil," Esshaki said in November. In April, Esshaki brought and won a suit against the State of Michigan to extend the filing deadline for candidates trying to get on the August primary ballot. Due to the COVID-19 crisis and Governor Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order, candidates were unable to go door to door to get the necessary signatures. 

Whittney Williams, a first-generation immigrant from Taiwan, announced her campaign in August 2019. Williams currently serves as the Director of Diversity for the 11th District Republican Committee. She's held that role since 2018.

13th Congressional District: U.S. Representative

From left: Rep. Rashida Tlaib; Brenda Jones; Alfred Lemmo; David Dudenhoefer; Linda Sawyer

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D) faces an uphill battle to re-election, facing opposition from Democratic candidate Brenda Jones, and three Republican primary candidates in the 13th Congressional District. The district covers portions of Wayne County, including portions of the city of Detroit.

Jones is president of the Detroit City Council and announced her campaign in March of this year. Jones says what sets her apart from other candidates is her connection to the community she hopes to represent, Michigan Radio's Caroline Llanes reported.  “I've been on the ground doing this for the last 15 years. I've been a councilperson for 15 years, and a council president for the last two terms. And so I've been connecting with the people on the ground.”

Jones held the seat for 35 days in 2018, when she won a special election following the resignation of Rep. John Conyers. Tlaib won the race for the full two-year term. 

Since she's been in office, Tlaib has been a vocal opponent of President Donald Trump and his administration. Prior to her election to the U.S. House, Tlaib was a member of the 6th and 12th districts of the Michigan House of Representatives. She's also been endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

On the Republican ticket, three candidates have emerged. David Dudenhoefer has served as the district chair for the 13th Congressional District Republican Committee since 2013, according to his website. Alfred Lemmo is a retired mechanical engineer, who believes that "government has strayed far from what our Founding Fathers originally intended for the government’s role in our lives," according to his website. Linda Sawyer, a nurse, is also running. According to her website, she doesn't feel that "Rashida respects everyone...especially Jewish people."  She has previously served as a Wayne County Republican Committee member. 

Absentee Voting

Credit April Baer / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things about the way Michiganders are living. Election day is no exception. Michigan's Secretary of State Office has seen an influx in absentee voting requests -- up 350% compared to the same time ahead of the 2016 state primary -- and many voters will be heading to different polling locations in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is encouraging voters to return the ballots as soon as possible, preferably by dropping them off at your local clerk's office. She also is preparing voters to expect delayed election results following Tuesday's primary. For more information on your best bet for voting on Aug. 4, check out our guide

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Jodi is Michigan Public's Director of Digital Audiences, leading and developing the station’s overall digital strategy.
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