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Published: Saturday, 8/5/2006

Will they vote in Michigan?

MICHIGAN has a more interesting statewide primary than usual Tuesday.

Republicans have a hot race for their nomination to the U.S. Senate, in which voters will choose between Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and the Rev. Keith Butler, who would be the first black GOP Senate candidate in state history. Hillsdale and Lenawee County voters will help decide one of the most closely watched congressional races in the nation, where U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz is fighting a tough GOP primary challenge from former state legislator Tim Walberg.

And there will be contests in both parties for many legislative seats and local issues on ballots all over the state. Michigan, unlike Ohio, has no party registration, which means any voter can choose to vote in either primary without anybody knowing which he selects or who she votes for.

Additionally, this will also be the first election in which the entire state will vote using modern, optical-scanning technology - a system that sensibly preserves a paper trail. Other new equipment will make it easier than ever for people with any kind of disability to cast a secret ballot easily and in private. Yet sadly, we already know what most Michigan voters will do - fail to show up.

Chris Thomas, Michigan's longtime elections director, predicts that less than one-quarter of those eligible will cast a ballot Tuesday, which is a shame. That's especially true because in most races, gerrymandering has ensured that districts are safe for one party, making the primary the more important election.

Actually, such a low turnout is more than a shame. It is a disgrace, both to democracy and the memory of Viola Liuzzo, a Detroit housewife who in 1965 was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan for trying to help blacks in Alabama register to vote. She died for the right to cast a ballot.

How ironic it is that, four decades later, people in her home state too often can't be bothered.

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