By Kasey Cox, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 29, 2012
As a group of about 35 students munched on a pizza dinner in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy Monday evening, three panelists discussed issues voters will face at the polls on Nov. 6, while highlighting the long history of voter suppression and former undemocratic election processes.
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According to the panelists, this year’s ballot is one of the longest in Michigan history in its inclusion of numerous critical statewide issues, from union rights to energy use.
The form — co-organized by the University’s chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — included Michael Steinberg, the legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, Melvin Butch Hollowell, the general counsel member of Detroit's NAACP chapter and Susan Smith, the president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan.
Steinberg stressed the importance of the ballot itself, urging students to go online and review the names of the different candidates and proposals in addition to the ballot format to be prepared for Election Day.
Hollowell explained that people might see the ballot’s daunting length and focus only on the presidential and congressional races. In order to encourage students to consider the proposals, he asked the audience to take just a few minutes to read about each one.
“We want people to vote the whole ballot so that we can have our say in terms of these important ballot questions,” Hollowell said. “There are things that aren’t necessarily on the ballot, but really are on this ballot. Depending on who you elect, that is the future of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the environment.”
According to Hollowell, 622,000 Michigan residents do not hold any form of identification, yet Michigan voters are required to show ID, or sign an affidavit, when voting. Smith explained that because there are associated fees with obtaining an ID, this policy marginalizes the elderly — 20 percent of whom are without identification — minorities and low-income citizens.
Steinberg also discussed the factors young voters must take into consideration, like determining whether to send an absentee ballot back home or vote within the state or district of their university, noting differing state policies may prohibit their voting options.
The panelists also discussed their organization’s endorsements of each ballot initiative, before Steinberg expressed the importance of voting to students as a way of honoring the democratic procress and making their voices heard.
“You should get out there and vote because sometimes people don’t want you to vote, and I don’t know about you, but when someone tries to keep me down I want to struggle more,” he said. “There are all kinds of people who came before us to work hard to establish the right to vote.”
LSA sophomore Jacob Light, the chair of the University’s chapter of ACLU and the panel’s coordinator, said he came up with the idea a month ago and thought that it would be an informative tool for students.
“I thought it’d be nice to create a forum so at least people are aware of these laws, and, hopefully, as we transition into leadership roles into the future, we look at these laws more critically and make sure that we are protecting the rights of students and all voters,” Light said.
LSA senior Lauren Coffman, the communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrat, said she thought the forum was informative.
“I thought it was really great,” Coffman said. “I think a lot of students aren’t really aware of their limitations for voting on campus, and anything that brings awareness to those rules that people are prepared before they go into the polling place on November 6th is great.”
Correction Appended: A previous version of this article didn't include that voters can sign an affidavit instead of showing picture identification