voter guide

If you want to see change, one thing you can do is vote.

Voter turnout in the August 2021 mayoral primary for Detroit was less than 15%. Less than 20% of the city’s registered voters turned out for the general municipal election the same year. 

Elections are your chance to decide who to hire for the job of public servant. We’re putting together a helpful voting guide unlike most others to help you through. Instead of telling people who to vote for and why, we’re here to help you find the resources to decide for yourself. 

How do you choose where to stand on issues affecting you? How do you best select candidates that will support your causes? Which candidates have the ability to actually create change? Our guide will help you take it step by step, in an easy to understand way — written for Detroiters, by your fellow Detroiters, the Detroit Documenters. We are in debt to Sonja Stuckey for proposing this project and getting it off the ground.

What’s in here and how to use it

The purpose of this voter guide is to equip you to make well-informed decisions before you cast your valuable vote. It will help you understand:

  • The importance of a primary election
  • Your own values and priorities
  • Pitfalls to avoid
  • The power of a public official 
  • How to research a candidate
  • How to cast your ballot

By the end, you should have a better understanding of how to vote to support your interests and tips for how to stay involved after the election to make sure officials are working for you. 

You can also check our Election Glossary if you’re unfamiliar with any of the terms in the guide.

How to vote in the Detroit primary and key dates to know

This year, Michigan’s primary is Tuesday, Aug. 2. It is the final day to cast your vote, but you can also vote ahead of time. Before you think about who you’ll vote for, make sure you have the basics in check: know how to register to vote, how to receive and return your ballot on time and to the right place.

Why a primary election matters so much

Voters in Detroit are about 90% Democrat. This means that most of the competition for candidates in partisan races actually happens in the primary, within the Democratic party ballot. For many of the big races, the election is more or less decided by the time the general election happens (although there are definitely exceptions to this, and both the primary and general elections are important).

Start with the issues

It can be overwhelming to think about where you stand on all the issues a public official might have influence over. To find out where you fall on the political spectrum you can take this quiz and use the candidate scorecard we developed.

‘Hire’ the best candidate: Understand politicians’ jobs

Campaigns might be “a race,” but after the election is won, candidates must get down to the business of governance, whether they are in the legislative, executive or judicial branch. These roles can involve specialized skills or knowledge that aren’t required to run for office. Here is more about the responsibilities of some of the key positions you’ll find on the Aug. 2 ballot, which may help you assess which candidate you want to vote for.

Get to know the candidates: How to research the people on your ballot

Voters sometimes rely only on name recognition or political advertising to pick a candidate. That can land a voter choosing someone they don’t really agree with or that they feel very invested in and are less likely to hold accountable after the election. A little bit of research will help you feel more confident when you cast your ballot.

How to look up a politician’s voting record and job performance

When a candidate has never held public office, voters have to take some of their promises on faith. But when a candidate has held public office before or is currently serving, there are a wealth of publicly available documents you can use to find out how much that candidate has achieved and how they interact with other officials.

Who’s trying to sway my vote? How to follow the money in campaigns

Groups of citizens and other elected officials try to influence elections by endorsing candidates, small and large donors do this by giving money directly to candidates, and there are Political Action Committees (PACs) that donate money, buy advertisements or sponsor events designed to help get the candidate they favor elected. Understanding how this influence works and how to navigate it can make you a more confident voter. 

What to know before you go to the polls in Detroit

Make a plan to vote! If you’re voting on Election Day, get your transportation in order, find your polling place by looking it up here and learn more about what you will find at the polls.

Have more questions about voting in Detroit? Email us at

Stay engaged: What comes after the election

You hit the polls, now what? You have done your civic duty. Whether you went to the polls or mailed in a ballot, your vote was cast. Here’s how you can continue to stick to the path of the civically engaged citizen.

Election glossary: Understand common terms

Politics has a lot of specialized terms and candidates, talking heads, and officials sometimes use these terms to make things seem harder to understand. Use this handy resource when you want to learn, or double check, some of these terms.


Concept, research and outline: Sonja Stuckey, Detroit Documenters
Published by: Outlier Media in collaboration with Detroit Documenters
Written by: Detroit Documenters Damien Benson, Dan Ignacio, Byron Keys, Meg Krausch, Kayleigh Lickliter, Gina McPherson, David Palmer and Paul Warner
Additional writing by: Kate Abbey-Lambertz, Lynelle Herndon, Noah Kincade and Malak Silmi at Outlier Media
Edited by: Sarah Hulett and Lindsey Smith at Michigan Radio, Sarah Alvarez, Erin Perry and Kate Abbey-Lambertz at Outlier Medi

Detroit Documenters Media Partners are: WDET, Detroit Free Press, Planet Detroit, BridgeDetroit, Detroit Metro Times and Chalkbeat Detroit