Emotions were high Tuesday as people headed to the polls. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty about what the future may hold, University of Michigan students voting in Ann Arbor reported feeling that their voices matter now more than ever.

Despite pushes for voters to use absentee and vote-by-mail avenues, some students said they preferred to vote in person. Michigan election law changed drastically in 2018 through the passage of Proposal 3, which allows voters to register to vote through Election Day, have a straight party ticket voting option and be able to vote absentee without needing an excuse.

The state of Michigan is expecting to see a record number of voters voting by mail in this election, as well as potentially a record number of ballots cast in the state in this election, which could cause delays in final tallies for the presidency and U.S. Senate. 

Young people are showing up to vote early in the state, according to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office. Approximately 7,900 ballots from voters between the ages of 18 to 24 have been returned as of Monday — a 12-fold increase from the 654 absentee ballots from the same age group returned by the eve of Election Day in 2016.

While voting absentee is a way to avoid large crowds, there are many reasons why voters might choose to go in person. Voting with an absentee ballot brings the possibility of having your vote discarded through issues with signature matching, which has made some students question if they should trust voting by mail, LSA junior Maggie Huber said. 

Engineering sophomore Joshua Thomas also agreed, saying the thought of President Donald Trump claiming he won Michigan’s 16 electoral college votes before the absentee votes are counted was his deciding factor to vote in person despite the health risks associated with the ongoing pandemic.

“There’s always that lingering chance that Donald Trump might just say, ‘Oh, wait, look, we won in Michigan, just stop the count,’” Thomas said. “That’s my biggest fear, and that’s why I decided to vote in person despite the risks.”

Thomas’ concerns mirror those seen nationally, as people have raised concerns that President Trump will attempt to dispute the election results or not leave office if he loses. The Graduate Employees’ Organization — the union representing Graduate Student Instructors at the University that went on strike earlier this semester — released a statement Monday night saying it would join other unions across the U.S. in a nonviolent action, including a work stoppage, should Trump refuse to accept or attempt to undermine the outcome.

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For many students, this is the first presidential election they are eligible to vote in. On top of this, many out-of-state students are voting in Michigan for the first time because the state election policy allows those who have lived in the state for 30 days, including in residence halls or off-campus housing, to be eligible to register.

Ann Arbor City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry said last week that approximately 150-180 students were registering to vote in Michigan through the satellite office at the University of Michigan Museum of Art each day before the stay-in-place order. Though the stay-in-place order included exemptions for election-related activities, the number of students registering each day dropped to around 60, Beaudry said. The order ended at 7 a.m. on Election Day.

These student votes could be critical to deciding which party carries the presidency and U.S. Senate seat in Michigan. President Donald Trump narrowly beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election in Michigan, winning by approximately 10,000 votes. The state’s executive branch flipped in 2018 as voters elected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and re-elected Sen. Debbie Stabenow along with Democrats Dana Nessel and Jocelyn Benson for attorney general and secretary of state respectively. 

Michigan’s status as a battleground state is not lost on students like Kinesiology freshman Hannah Waller. Waller, who is from the Washington, D.C., area, said she voted in Michigan because she felt that her ballot held more value in a swing state.  

“I’m actually from D.C. so I was going to vote there, but I figured they need my vote here more,” Waller said. “I wanted to do it in person because it’s my first time so I wanted to get that experience. I’m really glad I did it in person.”

In Ann Arbor, many polling sites saw little or no lines, with the exception of the UMMA, which was a location that processed same-day registration. Popular U-M buildings including the League and Union also were used as polling locations.

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While safety precautions, such as social distancing, mask requirements and sanitizing surfaces, were taken, some students, like LSA senior Audrey Silverman, didn’t trust that others were following public health guidelines. 

“I took my own personal precautions,” Silverman said. “Right now I’m wearing a mask that has a HEPA filter in it which is basically the same as an N95. And I brought my own hand sanitizer. I know that I am protecting myself even if I can’t speak for other people.” 

LSA freshman Duncan Goodman, an out-of-state student who voted in Ann Arbor, said he supported candidates who were in favor of small government, but only voted on races he was educated on and felt could personally impact him. He said he wanted to vote in person to understand the feeling of what it has been like to vote in past elections.

“It was definitely one of those moments that made me feel really proud to be an American,” Goodman said. “Regardless of the outcome, I’m just excited to know that my voice was heard, my vote counts and mattered and that I’ll get the opportunity to do it again and stay involved in the process.”

A survey conducted by The Daily, which included 1900 students, found the environment and racial justice to be the most pressing issues for students this election cycle. Other top priorities included health care and the economy.

Thomas said the country needs to take a new approach to health care and is voting for candidates who share this ideology. He is among the 85% of students, as surveyed by The Daily, who are voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for president and vice president, respectively.

“I think that not voting for Joe Biden, and not punishing Republicans for what they’ve done for four years, it’s inexcusable for me,” Thomas said. “The chance that my vote cancels out like some like, really nasty dude in my hometown is kind of satisfying.”

For some, this election feels like they are voting to protect their rights and quality of life. Recent U-M graduate Emma Scott said getting Trump out of office is important to her.

“As a queer person of color, it’s just terrible,” Scott said. “Just getting him out — that’s just the most important thing on my mind. Even if the other candidates aren’t ideal, just get him out. The current administration has just no regard for the citizens.” 

Election results can sometimes be shocking to students when they find themselves surrounded by people of similar ideologies on campus, LSA senior Sofia Calderon said. Calderon said she has a lot of friends who are environmental science majors so their beliefs strongly influence hers. 

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The election has been a significant source of stress for more than two-thirds of adults, an increase from around half in 2016, according to the American Psychological Association. University administration has prepared for increased resources for students after the election through Counseling and Psychological Services, Wolverine Support Network and Michigan Medicine.

“The community that I’m in, everyone agrees with me politically,” Calderon said. “Everyone has kind of the same views, same leanings (in) my group of friends, the people I live with and people I interact with. Most people that I’ve talked to at the University kind of are on the same page.” 

Calderon’s views echo those expressed in 2016, when students stunned by Trump’s unexpected victory congregated in the Diag for a “vigil” for the fate of the country and rights of minorities. More than 1,000 students, faculty and community members, including University President Mark Schlissel, gathered in the Diag the night after the election to protest Trump’s win. Approximately 90% of students who voted in the 2016 election did not vote for Trump. At the time, Schlissel said Trump’s win was revealing of the country’s feelings.

Above all, students told The Daily they felt proud to exercise their right to vote in this election. After he finished voting at the Union, Engineering junior Tommy Pickup, an Italian dual citizen, said he felt excited to vote for the first time at such a pivotal moment for the country.

“I feel like it’s just more of a feeling of civic responsibility,” Pickup said. “At this kind of political, state, and environment. I feel like this is the time where a lot of decisions need to be made, and people need to go out and vote.”

Daily News Contributor Ashna Mehra can be reached at ashmehra@umich.edu

Alex Harring, Paige Hodder, Martha Lewand. Nina Molina and Sarah Stolar contributed reporting from polling sites across Washtenaw County.

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