In 2016, LSA senior Cory Dubin, a high school senior at the time, walked into his local polling station in White Lake, Michigan. Under 18 at the time, he wasn’t there to vote, but to be a poll worker. 

He said he walked out of the polling station with new insights on existing barriers to voting. 

“Having worked at the polls, there were certain things where I noticed that people were missing the opportunity to vote,” Dubin said. “Not because they just didn’t know there was an election or something but because of mainly, voter (mis)education … People who want to vote should have the right to do that — and there should be nothing standing in the way.”

Dubin became an Andrew Goodman Foundation ambassador his junior year of college. In this role, he works with the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning and the Big Ten Voting Challenge to increase voter registration across the University of Michigan campus.  

The Big Ten Voting Challenge, founded in 2017, aims to produce civic engagement and increase voter participation among students across the 14-school conference, including the University. Ahead of the 2020 election, the Big Ten Voting Challenge has worked with the Ginsberg Center and other organizations across campus to increase voter participation among University students. 

Michigan is a state where students could prove to be especially important, since it is considered a key battleground state in the 2020 election. In 2016, President Donald Trump beat then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by just more than 10,000 votes in Michigan. 

In 2016, 37,456 University students were eligible to vote, and about the same number or more are eligible to vote in this upcoming election. However, only 25,557 were registered in 2016 and only 16,740 ended up voting. 

 
 
 
 
 

Usually, Dubin and the Ginsberg Center would table and talk directly to students. Because COVID-19 has made traditional methods of voter outreach unsafe, the group has launched an Instagram page and other virtual outreach campaigns to encourage voters to participate in the electoral process.

“What I would say is that students really (have started to) realize their votes do make a difference,” Dubin said. “And whichever candidate you’re voting for, you can either extend that lead or minimize it. (So we need to make) sure that regardless of party, people do know that their votes do matter, and they actually can impact the results.”

LSA professor Josh Pasek, who focuses on political communication and how media influences political attitudes, said social media can be a useful tool to disseminate and receive voting information. 

“In addition, social media tends to display voting as a more normative behavior,” Pasek said. “So you’re less likely to see other people doing democratic participatory acts just walking around than you are to see them on social media.”

Due to efforts by organizations like the Big Ten Voting Challenge, in the 2018 midterms, the average number of registered student voters in the Big Ten conference hit 43%, 3% higher than the national average student voting rate and more than double the rate in 2014. At the University, the number of average voters more than tripled from 2014 to 2018, going from 14% to 41%. 

The passage of Proposal 3 in 2018, a voter initiative that amended the state constitution and expanded voter rights of Michiganders and voter education efforts, also helped organizations like the Big Ten Voter Challenge reach students and get them registered to vote. The proposal allowed future elections to have same-day registration and absentee voting without an excuse.

This year, the Big Ten Voting Challenge has also launched the campaign “Student Orgs Vote!” which partners with student organizations to encourage their members to make a voting plan. 

Public Policy junior Lena Hoppe, philanthropy chair for Beta Alpha Rho, a pre-law and public policy fraternity on campus that has joined the campaign, said her organization had a meeting dedicated to sharing resources from the campaign.

“Especially for younger students or freshmen, I think it can be overwhelming for first-time voters … That’s why it’s important to lay everything out there,” Hoppe said. “And if you can vote, and here are all your options and your ways of doing this, we’re not forcing you to do it, just (encouraging) you to do it.”

Members of the Big Ten Voting Challenge also volunteer at the Ann Arbor City Clerk’s satellite office at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. The UMMA satellite office opened on Sept. 22, National Voter Registration Day, after efforts by campus organizations like the Creative Campus Voting Project to increase student voter registration and engagement. 

One of the volunteers, Public Policy senior Meredith Days, said it is encouraging to see students of all ages volunteering, registering to vote and casting their ballots at the UMMA. 

“There’s just a lot of people signed up to (to volunteer), which is great, and has been really exciting to see because it’s a lot of people that I don’t know,” Days said. “Like younger students, which is great because I feel like I know a lot of people who are seniors, but I’m glad that underclassmen are signing up to do this well.”

Jacqueline Beaudry, city clerk of Ann Arbor, said in an email to The Michigan Daily that the satellite office has registered 100 to 200 student voters every day for the past 40 days. 

“Student volunteers at UMMA with the Big Ten Voting Challenge have helped work the line, answer questions and hand out forms,” Beaudry said. “This has been a great assistance to the City Clerk staff working the registration tables and issuing ballots as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Dubin, who also interns with the clerk’s office, said this year’s momentum in increasing voter turnout and emphasizing the importance of voting will impact future elections.  

“I do not think it’s going to be limited to just one election, where it’s like, ‘Okay, we voted, our candidate won, let’s call it a day,’” Dubin said. “Regardless of what happens in the election, you’re going to see voters, or potential voters really making sure that they continue to engage with the democratic process.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Julia Forrest can be reached at juforres@umich.edu.

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