Sarah Alvarez is the founder and executive editor of Outlier Media, a Detour Detroit partner.
The question is what Detroiters are owed.
More Detroiters voted in the election than in 2016. In the process, we have made it possible for the entire country to work towards building a better democracy. Without our votes — and others cast everywhere from Milwaukee to Maricopa County — this country would instead have four more years of an executive branch working to undermine that ideal along with the very survival of Black and brown communities.
Detroiters showed up — at voter registration drives, ballot drop boxes and polling places — and did their part to ensure their votes were cast and counted with integrity. Meeting that minimum standard of modern democracy was harder than it should have been this year. In the relief of seeing the end of a Trump presidency, it would not be fair to Detroiters if we try to move on too quickly. The election officials, poll workers, organizers, postal service employees and others who worked so diligently through this election in Detroit deserve our thanks and to be celebrated.
It would also not be fair if we fail to investigate and address the threats to future free and fair elections in this city. The misinformation campaigns, poll worker intimidation attempts, and open embracing of voter suppression as a GOP election strategy at the local, state and federal level are threats not just to our systems but to the people of this city.
Those outside threats to election integrity demand sustained attention. They are a symptom of a larger disdain for any and all expressions of Detroiters’ self-determination. Still, there are issues inside the city. After an August primary where last-minute changes to polling locations left voters confused about where to vote and the Board of Canvassers found absentee ballot counts were off in more precincts than they were right, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson had to announce “a partnership” with City Clerk Janice Winfrey to make sure the general election went more smoothly.
The state paid for staff and lent protocols and expertise. Polling places opened on-time, poll workers showed up and voters reported few issues on Nov. 3. But Detroiters still complained about not receiving their absentee ballots for weeks, inadequate poll worker training, unannounced closures of early voting centers on the eve of the election and a lack of leadership from Winfrey during the count at TCF Center, where she was rarely seen. City Council, the press, and the state should help the thousands of Detroiters who volunteered to work this election to understand if their effort was matched by their clerk.
Detroit is imperfect. It just helped extend a lifeline to a structurally and functionally imperfect country. A proportional response would be to demand that the media, the city, the state—and all of the individuals who make up those institutions—answer Detroiters’ attempts to thrive with as much good faith.
Sarah Alvarez is the founder and executive editor of Outlier Media. She started her career in civil rights law in New York, but is much happier as a journalist than she ever was as a lawyer. Before founding Outlier Media, she worked as a senior producer and reporter at Michigan Radio, the statewide NPR affiliate. In that role, she covered issues important to low-income families, child welfare and disability. Her work has been featured on NPR, Marketplace, The Center for Investigative Reporting, Bridge Magazine, The Detroit News, and The New York Times. Sarah believes journalism is a service and should be responsive to the needs of all people. She developed Outlier’s model after years of trying to figure out how journalists could do a better job filling information gaps and increasing accountability to low-income news consumers.