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What Voters Of Color In Michigan Care About Ahead Of The November Election

NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump won narrowly in 2016 in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan and one reason for that was turnout in traditionally Democratic areas like the city of Detroit. Some people didn't like their options, so they either voted for a third party or they just stayed home. NPR's Asma Khalid wondered if they'll do the same this year.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: On a weekday around lunch, the drop box outside the Detroit Department of Elections was nonstop busy. Michael Coleman was hand-delivering his ballot so it couldn't get lost in the mail.

MICHAEL COLEMAN: I don't like neither one of them, but I voted for Biden - I mean, you know.

KHALID: Coleman did not vote in 2016. He didn't like his choices then, and he doesn't love them now, but...

COLEMAN: He not good.

KHALID: So...

COLEMAN: He won't denounce white supremists (ph). He disbanded the pandemic team. I'm not real political. For lack of a better word, he's an [expletive].

KHALID: In the last presidential election, Zeinab Chami voted third party. She thought Hillary Clinton was a war hawk, but this year, she's torn between voting for Joe Biden or leaving the top of the ticket blank.

ZEINAB CHAMI: There's a possibility that I'll vote for Biden. I just - and that did not - that possibility of voting for Clinton did not exist in 2016.

KHALID: The difference is that Trump has now been in power for nearly four years.

CHAMI: This year feels different. It feels like there's more at stake.

KHALID: Chami's not a fan of Biden's foreign policy, particularly around Palestine and Israel. But she's also an English teacher in Dearborn in the time of COVID, and issues like public education and health care are important to her.

CHAMI: I feel like Donald Trump and his movement are trying to kind of tear down the social safety net.

KHALID: Democrats are desperate to turn people like Chami into concrete Biden voters. The question is how they do that. Ken Whittaker, with the Michigan People's Campaign, is focused on relational organizing where volunteers contact friends and family.

KEN WHITTAKER: If you're getting cold calls from an organization, you tend to ignore it. But if it's your daughter or your husband, wife, uncle, auntie, that's saying this issue is concerning to me, you're more likely to engage.

KHALID: Whittaker says the Black and brown voters he's talking to were apathetic in 2016, but this year, they're angry.

WHITTAKER: A lot of people didn't like Hillary Clinton - let's be honest - did not like Hillary Clinton. And I'm not going to say everybody likes Joe Biden. But there is a much better understanding that progress doesn't always mean running 10 blocks forward. Sometimes progress is stopping your slide going 20 blocks back.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHANTING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We're ready to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We're ready to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We're ready to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We're ready to vote.

KHALID: Last Friday, a group of young folks were organizing this party to the polls. One of the groups behind this effort is Detroit Action. Branden Snyder is their executive director.

BRANDEN SNYDER: People may be uncertain. People may not be sure about Biden, per se, but they damn sure don't want Trump.

KHALID: In 2016, Snyder was the youth vote director for the Clinton campaign in Michigan. He says the energy this year feels different. Still, there are skeptics. El Jay Parker is a 33-year-old autoworker who reluctantly voted for Clinton.

EL JAY PARKER: I know people are terrified of Trump, but I don't feel like just being a little bit better than Trump is good enough for me.

KHALID: Parker was turned off when Biden sparred with a couple of voters during the primaries, and he wants Biden to get more progressive on criminal justice and health care.

PARKER: I'm pretty much leaning towards leaving that top box empty.

KHALID: Democrats hope there aren't too many El Jay Parkers out there because last time Trump won Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes. Asma Khalid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBOHANDS' "LOST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.