DETROIT – With the presidential election a day away, talk among parishioners at Detroit’s Leland Missionary Baptist Church was more politically charged than usual after Sunday’s sermon. And judging by the number of Obama-Biden bumper stickers in the parking lot and “Change We Can Believe In” buttons pinned on purses and suits, churchgoers are making no secret of who they’re supporting in tomorrow’s election.

With more than 600,000 eligible voters, Detroit represents the single largest voting bloc in the state. It typically accounts for between 8 and 10 percent of all votes cast in Michigan on Election Day.

Magnifying its electoral power, Detroit is one of America’s most heavily Democratic-leaning cities. Nearly 94 percent of the city’s voters cast ballots for Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and 96 percent of straight-ticket ballots were cast as straight Democratic tickets in the city. According to Simone Lightfoot, head of the National Voter Fund for the NAACP in Detroit, that Democratic voting record makes the city a regular target of voter suppression efforts.

“Voter suppression has come primarily from Republicans out of state or outside of Wayne County coming in and serving in the capacity of a poll challenger, which they legally have the right to do,” Lightfoot said. “But it has generally been used as an intimidating factor or a way to slow up the lines.”

With Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, the first-ever black presidential nominee, on the ballot, Lightfoot and others are working to dispel questions and confusion from inexperienced voters who could be confronted in Detroit’s precincts.

The Motor City saw more than 328,000 votes cast, or just 51 percent of the city’s registered voters, in 2004. But with a record-setting 1.3 million voters registered in Wayne County, and the chance to elect the nation’s first black president, most analysts are projecting enormous, record-breaking turnout in Detroit tomorrow.

Lightfoot said those assumptions have drawn misinformation campaigns, including some giving voters wrong polling locations, false ID requirements and incorrect voting times.

This election comes on the heels of a 2004 election season that saw a number of fraudulent activities, including when former City Clerk Jackie Currie sent absentee ballots to Detroit voters who hadn’t requested them, and when a missing ballot box was found in an Detroit election worker’s car. City election officials will be working against a history of operational problems on Election Day.

“Many of the laws and regulations that are made at the state level are made for smaller populated voting blocks and they sort of force Detroit to fit in that box,” Lightfoot said. “So administratively, they’re having to do things that other areas don’t have to do in the same time frame.”

Associate Political Science Prof. Vince Hutchings said turnout among black voters could largely determine the election’s results.

“Even though we think of Michigan as a blue state that will go for the Democrats again this year, if you just look at the exit polls from 2004, you’ll find that most white voters in this state voted for George Bush,” said Hutchings, an expert on race and politics. “Kerry was able to carry the state in 2004 on the strength of the black vote, which is very much heavily concentrated in Detroit.”

Though both Obama and Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain have abandoned their campaign efforts in Michigan, Hutchings said Obama will need to rely on Detroit voters to secure a victory in the state.

“So goes Detroit, so goes the state,” Hutchings said.

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