DEARBORN, MICHIGAN — When Yvonnie Mills casts her ballot on Tuesday, the only box she will be ticking is “yes” on Proposal 3, the Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative that aims to enshrine the right to abortion in the Michigan state constitution. She doesn’t have strong opinions about the other names or measures on the ballot, but abortion rights are a priority for her — her only priority this election.
“I just feel like every woman should have the right to choose and make their own decision,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I feel like it’s not up to you to decide what I want to do with my body, period.”
In the weekend leading up to Election Day, Mills, a 45-year-old resident of Taylor, a city outside of Detroit, is exactly the kind of voter that canvassers with the Yes on 3 campaign are aiming to reach: people who support abortion rights, but who may need just one more nudge to make sure they get to the polls. The campaign got a promise from Mills that she’d turn out to the polls; they’re hoping their eleventh-hour push is enough to get Proposal 3 passed and ensure that reproductive freedom — including contraception, sterilization, infertility care, and postpartum care — can’t ever be taken away by state lawmakers or courts.
At the Yes on 3 campaign office in Dearborn on Monday, literature and merch were stacked on rows of tables, ready to be distributed over the next 36 hours until polls close at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. It was an informal operation; volunteers came and went, some stopping by to help arrange materials, others gearing up to go out and knock on doors for a few hours.
But the gravity of the cause they were fighting for did not escape them.
“This is a one-shot type of thing,” said Sandra Bucciero, a Yes on 3 organizer and former criminal defense attorney. Like many women at the office — and most of them were women — it was personal for Bucciero.
“If you don’t own your body, you don’t own anything,” she said.
Abortion became a central issue in the midterm elections after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had for decades guaranteed abortion access nationwide. A handful of states have since enforced bans previously negated by Roe, and local lawmakers have passed laws further restricting access.
In Michigan, the fight over abortion rights has been put back in the hands of voters. Reproductive Freedom for All, a coalition of Michigan organizations, worked for months to collect enough support to qualify for the ballot. It was certified on the Nov. 8 ballot in September, after a legal battle in which anti-abortion activists took issue with spacing issues in the petition.
As of now, abortion is legal in the state until the point of viability. A 1931 abortion ban that had remained on the books was struck down by a state judge in September, but advocates say Proposal 3 would ensure that residents have the same protections that Roe afforded them and protect them from any abortion bans that state lawmakers might pass in the future.
Opponents, however, have argued that the language in the proposal is too broad, claiming it would allow an “unlimited right to abortion,” including so-called “partial-birth abortion,” a nonmedical term used to describe a range of abortion methods. Opponents have also sought to play up anti-trans sentiment to gain support for a “no” vote, falsely claiming that it would allow children to undergo “gender change therapy” without parental consent and make children “sterile.”
For weeks, Yes on 3 activists have been making their case to voters and dispelling misinformation about the proposal. The weekend before Election Day was focused on getting out the vote, encouraging people like Mills to cast their ballots if they hadn’t already.
Chanel Cash spent Monday driving around Taylor, ringing doorbells and sticking flyers on doors. Cash, an organizer, has been working with Yes on 3 since late September, juggling her day job in accounts receivable and her campaign work in the evenings. She took Monday and Election Day off her regular job to focus on the campaign.
In the afternoon, Cash was paired with Kelly Petrie, a 47-year-old mom and theater teacher who was canvassing for the first time. Over nearly three hours, they drove from neighborhood to neighborhood knocking on doors. Most people did not answer, but every dozen houses or so, someone would come out to talk.
At one house, Susan Maveal, 75, said she wasn’t going to vote in the midterm election at all.
“Because I think the last presidential election was so fraudulent that it wasn't even worth me going and doing it [this year],” she explained to BuzzFeed News.
Maveal declined to say where she fell on abortion rights. But she was looking forward to Trump announcing his 2024 presidential run, she said, “even though he’s getting up there in age.”
Another voter, Baha A., a 43-year-old dad who declined to share his last name, identified himself as a Democrat. He planned to vote “yes” on Proposal 3 on Tuesday.
“It’s heartbreaking. I have a little girl,” he said. “It seems like Republicans will do whatever it takes to take away choice from women and girls. And I don’t want that for my daughter.”
Catherine LeGalley couldn’t go out canvassing because she was recovering from back surgery, and she couldn’t phone bank because she is hard of hearing. But she went into the Dearborn campaign office on Monday determined to help however she could.
“I'm not really useful,” she said. “But I've been putting together materials and stuff like that.”
LeGalley, 73, is a retired surgeon who described herself as a “dyed-in-the-wool liberal.” She graduated from college in 1971, two years before the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a constitutional right.
Kansas, where voters rejected an amendment to remove abortion protections from the state constitution in August, set an example for the nation, LeGalley said. She wants Michigan to do the same.
“I know from personal experience what having that right to abortion means,” she said. “So I see no reason why any other woman shouldn’t have that choice.”
Other volunteers, like 26-year-old Maria Matta, were seasoned political canvassers. Matta has knocked on doors for candidates and proposals since 2018, and this past summer, she went out collecting signatures to get Proposal 3 on the ballot. She’s since gone out canvassing for Yes on 3 in the evenings, after her day job as a data analyst.
Matta said she was crushed when Roe was struck down.
“I was so heartbroken because I knew that the abortion bans would result in people dying and just suffering needlessly. So I knew I had to be involved,” she told BuzzFeed News.
Matta brought her boyfriend along on Sunday to knock on doors, and they agreed that he would play a supporting role and let her do the talking.
The couple had their first date on June 24 at a rally protesting the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe that morning. They hadn’t planned to meet for another week, but when the decision came down, he texted her that he was at a rally. She told him that she was also going to one after work.
“First date?” she asked.
“Beats boring coffee,” he responded.
“And then the rest is history,” she told BuzzFeed News.
Racing against the early sunset on Sunday afternoon, Bucciero and Beth Bowen, a Lansing resident who works communications for the Yes on 3 campaign, knocked on dozens of doors. They hooked flyers to doorknobs if nobody answered and delivered their spiel to the people who did. Only a handful of people said they would vote “yes” on Proposal 3.
The work required a resilient spirit. But if it made a difference of just one vote, it was a job worth doing, Bowen said.
Occasionally, they saw the difference they made firsthand. On Monday, Mills, the single-issue voter, told Petrie that her partner wasn’t interested in voting no matter how she worked on him.
As she spoke about her strong feelings on abortion rights with the canvassers, her partner sauntered to the door.
“OK,” he said. “So what is this Proposal 3?” ●