Detroit learned all the wrong lessons from Shri Thanedar's 2022 win | Opinion

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Call me an optimist, but my heart beats toward the belief in a brighter future. That’s why I ran for the U.S. Congress' 13th District seat in 2022, despite the fact that eight other candidates entered the race.

I was one of seven Black Detroiters seeking the seat, and I believe now that my run, unfortunately, contributed to a fractured vote in the Black community in a low-turnout primary, ultimately sending U.S. Rep. Shri Thanedar to Washington D.C. with just 28% of the vote. Because the 13th District is so heavily Democratic, the election was decided in the August primary, in which 18% of registered voters cast ballots. As a result, for the first time in sixty years, Detroit does not have a Black representative in Congress. In good humor, friends in D.C. often send me various pictures of Thanedar posing around the Capitol with the caption “Griffie’s fault.”

But lessons were surely learned. Shortly after the race, I proposed a solution to Michigan's crowded partisan primaries: ranked choice voting.

Ranked choice voting gives voters a chance to rank their top three candidates, creating an instant runoff of sorts. A candidate who received more than half of the first-choice votes would win, as in our current system. If the top vote-getter received less than half the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes would be out, and the votes of those who chose that candidate first would be reallocated to the voter's second choice. And so on, until one candidate has amassed more than half the vote. Ranked choice voting would provide a clearer view of voters' will, and prevent the election of a candidate most voters didn't choose — and require candidates to make the deeper and broader connections with voters required to win in this format.

But adopting ranked choice voting would require amending the state constitution.

The more obvious and immediate solution to the problem of Black representation for the 13th District was also simpler — if fewer candidates run, the vote doesn’t get split.

And so began the 2024 race for the 13th Congressional District.

Only one candidate from that 2022 race filed to run against Thanedar. His name is Adam Hollier. Hollier received the coveted endorsement of a group backed by Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, raised $1.2 million and was the recipient of an additional $4.3 million in outside spending. When he finished second, with 23% of the vote, he made his intentions to run again clear. As early as 2023, Hollier worked the phones seeking endorsements from myself and some of his other 2022 opponents. (None have endorsed him.)

City Council Member Mary Waters will appear on the ballot, as well as attorney Shakira Lynn Hawkins.

But the undercurrent in the 2024 race was clear from the beginning: A heads-up matchup between Hollier and Thanedar would rightfully return a Black person from Detroit to Congress, and Hollier appeared to have the wind at his sails. Hollier received early endorsements from prominent Democrats here at home and around the country, which all but confirmed that the lessons of 2022 had been heeded.

Then disaster struck.

Michigan Sen. Adam Hollier
Michigan Sen. Adam Hollier

More from Freep Opinion: Hollier off ballot? So much for Black representation for Detroit in Congress

Second verse, same as the first

The last time I saw Hollier was at the Wolverine Bar Association's annual Barrister's Ball, about a week before the April 23 deadline for would-be candidates to file the nominating petitions required to make the ballot. He was confident about his chances this time around, and optimistic about his fundraising prospects.

There's an old saying, "Money is the mother’s milk of politics." But that’s not exactly the only thing needed.

As a political newcomer in 2022, I hired a company to collect signatures on those nominating petitions, but I also canvassed myself, because I saw an opportunity to meet voters and better understand the process.

My campaign manager validated every signature we received, checking to be sure that each signer did not live outside of the district or wasn't registered to vote, or was ineligible to sign for some other reason. If a signature was invalid, we would cross off the name with a black marker. If the signature was valid, we tagged that voter in our software system as having signed the petitions. In the end, we submitted 2,000 signatures: the required 1,000, and an ample cushion in case some invalid signatures slipped through our vetting process.

In 2022, Hollier pursued the same strategy, submitting the maximum 2,000 signatures. This year, he turned in only 1,500 signatures. Some were blatant forgeries. Hundreds more were invalid. Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett's staff determined that Hollier fell 137 signatures short of the 1,000 required. It's hard not to think that his priorities were elsewhere. As a result, this week Garrett formally removed his name from the August primary ballot.

It’s hard to imagine what Hollier can say to the supporters who contributed at least $790,000 to his campaign —many of whom supported other candidates in 2022 — or to the dozens of elected officials who put their reputations on the line to endorse him in a Democratic primary against an incumbent — nearly unheard of in political circles.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Hollier wrote that he was “extremely disappointed with the news from the Wayne County Clerk … not for myself, but the voters across the 13th District who deserve a real choice in who their next Congressperson will be.”

Waters trails Hollier significantly in fundraising, with just $9,800 at the end of the last reporting period. Hawkins has kept a low public profile, and has not filed any campaign finance reports with the Federal Elections Commission.

So here we are again, with Thanedar likely to return to Washington, this time because we had too few credible Black candidates.

More from Freep Opinion: Campaign forged Free Press reporter's signature

State Rep. Shri Thanedar, representing the third district, talks to the crowed gathered at the Cass Community Social Services Taylor Park in Detroit on Thursday, July 28, 2022. The social service agency hosted a "Get Out the Vote" community day along with giving out free haircuts to kids
State Rep. Shri Thanedar, representing the third district, talks to the crowed gathered at the Cass Community Social Services Taylor Park in Detroit on Thursday, July 28, 2022. The social service agency hosted a "Get Out the Vote" community day along with giving out free haircuts to kids

There's a better way

Which brings us back to ranked choice voting. Certainly, the group of influencers who didn’t want a crowded primary got their wish. But the outcome appears to line up exactly the same as it was two years ago.

As I said nearly two years ago, ranked choice voting increases voter participation, and offers a more accurate view of the will of the people. But now we can also see that ranked choice voting has the potential to stave off hits to the reputations of prominent elected officials, and level the fundraising playing field. It's not hard to imagine that more candidates would have run for the 13th Congressional District this year, if ranked choice voting meant there was no chance of splitting the votes of a key bloc.

There is real movement toward ranked choice voting here in Michigan. Recently, voters in East Lansing, Royal Oak, and Kalamazoo supported ranked choice voting, following Ann Arbor and Ferndale, which adopted the practice a few years ago — but it remains prohibited by state law.

While ranked choice voting seems to be a sharp departure from what we’ve always done, I believe it could lead to a brighter future in Michigan — one where voters more accurately elect their officials, more candidates participate in the democratic process and where the same mistakes aren’t repeated over and over again.

Michael Griffie
Michael Griffie

Free Press contributing columnist Michael Griffie is an educator, attorney and infrastructure executive. Submit a letter to the editor at, and we may publish it online or in print.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ranked choice voting could change Detroit Congressional races