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Washtenaw United: Addressing voter suppression in Washtenaw County and beyond

Michigan State Rep. Jason Morgan
Vote Jason Morgan
Michigan State Rep. Jason Morgan


Jason Morgan is a teacher and community leader who has devoted his life to public service.

The son of a commercial fisherman and school lunch aide, Jason Morgan was raised in Pinconning, Michigan. By working part-time and thanks to state and federal student aid, Jason worked his way through college as a first-generation college student, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Northern Michigan University. He later earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Jason previously served as a Washtenaw County Commissioner, representing Burns Park, and Central Ann Arbor. First elected in 2016 and re-elected twice with nearly 90% of the vote, he was elected Chair of the Board in 2019 and served as the county's first-ever LGBTQ chair.

In addition to his leadership in Washtenaw County, Jason serves as a Northern Michigan University Trustee, having been appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and is a service member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Jason’s passion is serving the community, with a particular focus on addressing economic and social inequality, LGBTQ rights, access to quality public education, transportation, mental health, and criminal justice diversion.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to this week's edition of Washtenaw United. I'm David Fair, and this is our weekly exploration of equity and opportunity in our community. Right now, the United Way of Washtenaw County is conducting its 21-Day Equity Challenge for the community. It is a personalized and individual way to explore systemic and personal bias and confront the implicit bias we all carry. Today, we want to take a look at an issue that's been around throughout American history and continues today, and that's voter suppression. Our guest is just starting his first term as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives. Jason Morgan was elected 23rd district representative back in November after serving as a member of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. And very nice to talk with you again, Jason.

Jason Morgan: Great to be with you.

David Fair: As I mentioned, voter suppression is certainly nothing new. However, over the past decade, we have certainly seen more overt efforts to actually enshrine suppressive efforts in states around the country, including here in Michigan. Do you see those efforts as racist or as a power play or perhaps both?

Jason Morgan: I'd say they're both, but a heavy emphasis on racist. And I think we have folks that have noticed that when people of color vote in Michigan, a particular party seems to do better. And they seem pretty adamant about making sure that they suppress that vote wherever they can.

David Fair: Well, back in November, when you won your first term in Lansing, Michigan voters also passed three ballot proposals. Proposal 2 amend the Michigan Constitution to create early voting and right to sign an affidavit as an alternative to showing photo ID to vote. It requires state-funded return postage and drop boxes for absentee ballots and clarifies the state canvasser board has a non-discretionary duty to certify results. All of that is clearly directly aimed at combatting voter suppression. What do we need to look for in its implementation?

Jason Morgan: Well, here's what I want to say. I think voters have made explicitly clear in our state over and over again, dating back to 2018, when 67% of voters that they'd like same-day voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting, some of the things you just talked about. And then 2020, we had record voter turnout despite the pandemic. And then, most recently here, voters made clear once again that they would like safe, secure, and easily accessible elections. That is what we're getting and what we're seeing. And, you know, I think we need to listen to that message to make sure that nobody has any ability to roll back those protections that the voters have said that they'd like to have.

David Fair: Well, certainly, since Donald Trump was in office, a common election thread through portions of the Republican Party has been the phrase "election security." Election fraud has been debunked throughout the nation and here in Michigan. But that doesn't mean the issue is going away. In fact, Republican leadership in Lansing this year has already announced it wants to further ensure election security in the upcoming state budget. What might we expect on that front in the months ahead?

Jason Morgan: Well, there's a huge difference between election security and voter suppression. And what I am seeing from the Republican caucus is voter suppression at this point. Democrats agree--and I certainly agree--that we need to make sure our elections are fair and free and secure. That is unequivocal. I think we're going to see folks trying to roll back these protections and make it harder for young people, folks with disabilities, seniors, essentially everyone that has any roadblock at all to being able to get to the ballot box. But we also are prepared on the Democratic side. We are working very hard with Secretary of State Benson already to pass even more protections and secure the right to vote for everyone. So, I think you're actually going to see a lot of positive work around elections and voter protection, as opposed to what we've seen over the last few years, which are folks trying to roll us backward.

David Fair: This is Washtenaw United on 89 one WEMU, and our conversation with 23rd District State Representative Jason Morgan of Ann Arbor continues. You know, another one of the manners in which there has been voter suppression is gerrymandering. It's been a political tradition of both parties, to be honest, when redrawing congressional and state district lines. That's been another measure used. And last time around, an independent and bipartisan commission took on the task instead of the state Legislature. And when those lines were first drawn, I don't know about you, I heard a lot of complaints that it was still drawn in favor of Republicans and would harm many minority voters, particularly in Wayne County and Detroit. You're now part of the first full Democratic majority legislature in four decades. So, were the concerns unfounded?

Jason Morgan: Well, I think they are. So, I guess...here's what I would say. I think these new lines will never be perfect. Nobody will ever agree that the lines are perfect. But we have ungerrymandered at the state of Michigan at this point. We've made it so that those who get the most votes in the state at large generally have more seats in the legislative bodies. I think that is very clear. And the fact that I have taken office in a majority here. But that also means that if there is a big shift one way or the other towards Democrats or Republicans, you'll see the power shift in Lansing. So, if voters were to say we are generally in favor of the Republican Party, you're going to see more Republicans get elected in these 50/50 districts that we have now and the other way around. So, it gives voters more power through these new lines. I'll also add that, as somebody who started running in a district that was just in the city of Ann Arbor, you know, as legislators, I think we have to support these new lines, even though they're somewhat more complicated to represent. I won't say tougher, but they're more complicated. And that I have three counties and more than seven communities that I'm serving, it just means we've got to get more creative about how we do our jobs and put in more time and energy to the work.

David Fair: While Democrats do have the majority in the Legislature and the governor running the executive branch, nearly half the state did vote Republican in the last election. And polarization remains an issue at almost all levels of government. While you're a Democrat and charged with serving your constituency, you're also charged with representing those who didn't vote for you. How are you looking to build bridges?

Jason Morgan: That is a phenomenal question, and I think an important one, particularly as we've ungerrymandered here, so that our districts are, you know, 60, 65% Democratic in parts of Ann Arbor, as opposed to 90% like they were before. I'm thrilled with these new districts because we really do serve every person in our district, not just the ones who voted for us. And not just voters, too. It's every citizen. So, I plan on doing a lot of outreach and engaging with folks, regardless of their political affiliation, and really just putting in the work to show up and listen. I think that is the fundamental thing that we can do as public officials is listen with an open mind and be sensible and pragmatic in what we support and what we introduce for legislation. And so, that's what we're trying to do. And, hopefully, voters will see that, and residents will see that. But time will tell if I do a good job or not.

David Fair: We're talking with State Representative Jason Morgan of Ann Arbor on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. You know, voter suppression. That is just one matter of concern and a much larger discussion about inequity and inequality, whether it be education, environmental justice, mental health, criminal justice, LGBTQ rights, economic inequality. It's often said, "Show me your budget, and I'll show you your values." So, as a part of the Legislature and as the Legislature as a whole begins to put together the next state budget, what values do you want it to reflect?

Jason Morgan: I am so glad you asked that question. The number one ask I made in following my election was to be on the Appropriations Committee because I agree 100%--your budget shows your values. And I was very pleased to be appointed to the Appropriations Committee, particularly in the areas of education, transportation, and public safety. And I think those are the things I would like to see. We have a huge opportunity to create a more equitable and better funded education system from pre-K to higher education and community colleges. That is going to be a huge focus of mine--is making sure that we are building a strong education system in Michigan, as well as transportation and infrastructure. We have crumbling roads and neighborhoods that I think every one of us has driven on or ridden our bike on or walked on. So, making sure that our state is being just sensible and pragmatic and focusing on good government, so that everybody is taken care of and, ultimately, so that we can make lives a little bit easier for people.

David Fair: So, we know that, regardless of what that budget looks like, there are going to be many who are critical and say it's a handout in many areas. So, how do you make the distinction between handout and hand-up in addressing inequity?

Jason Morgan: You know, I think it's about making equity a priority. It seems pretty clear to me that you extend more resources and opportunity to those who need it most. And so, we've seen in our state that the way we've done things in the past is not working. We have school districts in Washtenaw County that are saddled with decades of debt that are making it impossible for them to pull in good teachers and fully support their students. Applying an equity lens to how we budget through the state simply means making sure everyone is on a level playing field and that we are we're really putting the attention where it is needed most while also supporting the rest of our community and the rest of our schools at the same time.

David Fair: It's going to be a lot to talk about through this legislative session, and I look forward to our next conversation. Thank you so much for the time today, Jason.

Jason Morgan: Absolutely. Thank you, David.

David Fair: That is 23rd District State Representative Jason Morgan of Ann Arbor, our guest on Washtenaw United. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


Jason Morgan


As the 21-Day Equity Challenge: 2023 Edition runs from January 9th -29th, United Way of Washtenaw County wanted to bring attention to the ongoing issue of Voter Suppression in Washtenaw County, which is also a topic day in the Challenge.

Registration is open and free to those who want to participate at: https://www.uwwashtenaw.org/21-day-equity-challenge

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED) partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to launch the Financial Navigator program, funded by the national nonprofit organization, the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund (CFE Fund).

This partnership was made in response to the economic and health crisis Washtenaw County faced at this time. United Way is proud to have worked with Jason Morgan, during his time as Chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and Commissioner for District 8.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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