In an election that will fill many positions in Michigan government opened by term limits, a greater number of voters are expected to go to the polls today than in any previous gubernatorial election.

Paul Wong

With polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Secretary of State Candice Miller expects 3.4 million voters today, or half of all registered voters in Michigan.

Competitive races, redistricting and a slew of contentious proposals should add to the high turnout, Miller spokeswoman Elizabeth Boyd said.

But political analyst Bill Ballenger, editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, is not so optimistic. He said apathy persists in the electorate despite the huge stakes of the election.

Taking into account the lack of a central issue in the forefront and the mudslinging in the gubernatorial campaign, he said a lower turnout of about 44 percent is more likely.

The number of absentee ballots returned indicate that 40 percent of Ann Arbor voters will turn out, said Yvonne Carl, assistant to the city clerk.

The race to succeed 12-year Republican Gov. John Engler turned negative soon after the August party primaries, with Democrat Jennifer Granholm charging that her opponent, Republican Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, practices racial politics in his campaigns. Posthumus countered that Granholm will bring to state government a level of cronyism unprecedented in history.

While Posthumus and running mate Loren Bennett will be campaigning almost until polls close, Granholm’s last-minute 24-hour trip around the state, including a 9:15 a.m. stop yesterday at Zingerman’s Delicatessen on Detroit Street, was expected to finish last night.

“The message at every stop is it’s time for a change, and if people get out and vote that change can happen,” said state Sen. John Cherry Jr., Granholm’s running mate. “That change will put behind us that worn-out politics of division and move us forward on the issues that are important to people – economic security, jobs, access to healthcare and educational opportunities.”

Posthumus spokesman Sage Eastman said the lieutenant governor is more qualified to hold the state’s top office.

The race “comes down to who shares the values of working men and women in this state and who’s the better leader for this state,” Eastman said. “And of course there’s a big push to get people out to vote.”

In other races:

n Two seats are up for grabs on the University Board of Regents. The Republican candidates are current Regent Andrea Fischer Newman of Ann Arbor and state Rep. Andrew Richner of Grosse Pointe Park.

Opposing them are Democratic candidates Ismael Ahmed of Dearborn, director of the Dearborn-based Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, and Greg Stephens of Saline, a business manager and financial secretary of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 252.

All four candidates have pledged not to increase tuition beyond the rate of inflation.

Seats on the governing boards of Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the Michigan Department of Education will also be filled in the election.

n Republican Mike Cox of Livonia hopes to end a more than 40-year Democratic hold on the state attorney general’s office that continues under Granholm.

He faces state Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), who has vowed to protect consumers from fraudulent business practices if elected. Cox says he wants to increase the office’s focus on violent crime and emphasizes his legal experience as Wayne County’s lead homicide prosecutor.

Peters “basically has no courtroom experience,” Cox spokesman Stu Sandler said. “Mike’s experience is what’s making the difference.”

n Democrat Melvin Butch Hollowell squares off against Republican Terri Land in the race to replace term-limited Miller as secretary of state. Hollowell, a Detroit attorney, has emphasized election reform, including the use of optical rather than punch-card ballots. Land, a Byron Center resident who served until 2000 as Kent County clerk after eight years of service, has campaigned on shortening branch office lines and providing more services online.

“We are trying to motivate our base voters and energize Michigan to vote for the much-needed change,” Hollowell spokesman Chris Kirkpatrick said.

n Proposal 02-4 would redirect 90 percent of the state’s settlement with tobacco companies, which pays for some state programs like the Michigan Merit Award scholarships, to health care and anti-smoking efforts.

“One can only hope that the students would go out and vote in their best interests,” proposal opponent and state Sen. John “Joe” Schwarz (R-Battle Creek) said.

n Debate over Proposal 02-1 has been largely along partisan lines, with Democrats in opposition. It would ban straight-ticket voting, in which voters can cast a single vote for a party’s entire slate of candidates.

n To finance sewer infrastructure improvements and prevent water pollution, Proposal 02-2 asks voters to approve the sale of $1 billion in state bonds for low-interest loans to communities to be used to fix their sewers.

n State employees would be guaranteed the right to collectively bargain if Proposal 02-3 passes. They could also take their contract grievances to binding arbitration.

n A local proposal on the Ann Arbor ballot would renew a 0.4725 mill property tax for non-routine maintenance to city parks.

n Having already served 24 years in the U.S. Senate, incumbent Sen. Carl Levin is running for a fifth term against Republican Andrew Raczkowski, a state representative from Farmington Hills.

Levin, a Democrat from Detroit, has spent most of the past two months drafting resolutions on Iraq as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and spent relatively little time campaigning for an incumbent senator.

Raczkowski emphasized that his “new approach” will return full federal funding to Michigan.

n U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Dearborn) is seeking reelection in one of the more low-key races. The 47-year congressional veteran and current dean of the House faces Dearborn Republican Martin Kaltenbach in the race to serve the new 15th Congressional District, encompassing all of Monroe and parts of Washtenaw and Wayne counties.

n Former Democratic state Rep. Liz Brater of Ann Arbor is hoping to return to the Legislature, but this time to the Senate rather than the House. The 18th District seat she seeks encompasses most of Washtenaw County, including the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas. Her Republican opponent is Scio Township Trustee Gordon Darr of Dexter.

n Democratic state Rep. Chris Kolb of Ann Arbor is campaigning to keep his 53rd District state House seat on a platform of environmental protection and land conservation. He faces Republican John Milroy of Ann Arbor, who hopes fiscal discipline and tax cuts will help Michigan’s economy.

n Part of northern Ann Arbor falls into the new 52nd state House District, in which Democrat Pam Byrnes of Lyndon Township is challenging incumbent Rep. Gene DeRossett (R-Freedom Twp.).

DeRossett said he will continue to sponsor bipartisan legislation, while Byrnes wants more funding to improve early childhood education and preserve farmland.

n Ann Arbor Mayor John Hiefje is seeking another two-year term as the city’s top elected official. The real estate agent and former city councilman faces current Republican City Councilwoman Marcia Higgins, an executive assistant for Ardesta, LLC, in the at-large race.

n Voters in three of the city’s five wards will notice contested races to serve them on the City Council. Democrats currently have an 8-3 majority on the council, including the mayor’s vote.

In the open 2nd Ward race, former Democratic Councilwoman Joan Lowenstein is again seeking a full two-year term after losing last year to current Councilman Michael Reid. She faces Republican Jeff Hauptman.

In the 3rd Ward, Mayor pro-tem Jean Carlberg seeks another term against Republican Jeff DeBoer.

For an open seat in the 4th Ward seat, Democrat Margie Teall faces Republican Kenneth Timmer.

Incumbent Democrat Chris Easthope is running unopposed in the 5th Ward while Democrat Kim Groome has an equally clear path to a 1st Ward seat.

n State Supreme Court Justices Elizabeth Weaver of Glen Arbor and Robert Young Jr. of Grosse Pointe Park are seeking election to two eight-year terms on the state’s high court.

The Republicans are challenged by Democrats J. Martin Brennan of Sterling Heights and Maggie Drake of Detroit, Libertarians Michael Donahue of Detroit and Bruce Yuille of Clarkston and Green Party nominee Donnelly Hadden. The top two vote getters win the seats.

– Daily Staff Reporters Tomislav Ladika and Louie Meizlish contributed to this report.

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