On the eve of the 2018 midterm elections, the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats held a pre-election rally to encourage students and citizens to vote on Tuesday. There were several featured speakers, including current U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who is up for reelection this year.
Addressing about 100 attendees at the event, Stabenow emphasized the importance of voting ethically, claiming an increase in seats won by Democrats could make this happen.
“We are committed to a country that reflects the right values, and we reject what has been spewing out of the White House,” Stabenow said.
Stabenow echoed a sentiment that was common among other speakers — Democrats are looking for change in the upcoming election. U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, Jocelyn Benson, candidate for Michigan Secretary of State, and Sam Bagenstos, candidate for justice on the Michigan Supreme Court, all spoke of the opportunity this election presents in terms of giving Democrats a chance to win back important positions at the state and the federal level.
Instead of focusing on discussing their platforms specifically, these candidates all emphasized the importance of actually getting out the vote. Several candidates mentioned President Donald Trump won Michigan by a margin of 0.3 percent in 2016 — only 2.2 votes per precinct could have swung the election in the other direction.
The University has been urging students to vote for months leading up to Tuesday. Last September, the University joined the Big Ten Voting Challenge, a competition among Big Ten schools to improve voter registration and turnout numbers.
Candidates urged the audience to encourage everyone they knew to vote. State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, said his personal experience in his first campaign in 2010 — which he won by two votes — showed him no vote is insignificant.
Public Policy senior Kellie Lounds, chair of College Democrats, cited several other large campus events that were geared toward getting students involved in politics and encouraging them to vote, including a rally with gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer early in the year and a more recent rally that featured U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
However, when asked about the University’s role in encouraging students to vote through initiative such as the Big Ten Voting Challenge, Lounds expressed several suggestions based on her experiences at the University, such as canceling class so students can vote without missing lectures or exams.
“I think the University does a great job on doing publicity on whether or not students should vote, but I think if they really wanted students to vote, they would not have class on Election Day, they would tell departments not to schedule major exams on Election Day, they would work with the city to have more polling places on campus,” Lounds said. “There are a lot of structural issues that the University does not do a good job of addressing.”
Central Student Government passed a resolution in 2017 advocating for Election Day to be a University-wide holiday, but administrators have not acted on such a suggestion.
Despite logistical difficulties, Lounds still said she believed more students seem motivated to vote in this election than in previous elections, based in part due to higher numbers of absentee ballots that have already been cast. As of Monday, the city clerk’s office counted 11,300 voters who turned in absentee ballots early in Ann Arbor.
“This compares more to a Presidential Election,” City Clerk Jackie Beaudry wrote in an email statement to MLive Monday. “We issued about 15,000 in 2016 and only 8,000 in 2014. We have had about 5-10 people in line waiting for ballots pretty consistently since last week.”
Rabhi was similarly optimistic about the impact increased voter turnout could have in this election, but also recognized that people must be committed to vote.
“Go to bed hopeful … but with that fire in your belly still,” Rabhi said.
Ann Arbor Mayor Chris Taylor made a point to mention Proposal A, an initiative on Ann Arbor’s ballot that would prevent the city from building a 17-story commercial complex on a vacant lot near the Ann Arbor District Library and would instead mandate a city park be built in its place. Taylor and other City Councilmembers have opposed the proposal in recent weeks, though proponents of the measure push. Reiterating a similar point made by other speakers, Taylor targeted students by connecting this election to a pertinent issue for students looking for affordable housing.
LSA freshman Andrea Bavikatty said she only voted for the first time in the primaries for the midterm elections, but explained why she felt this election was especially important to vote in.
“In 2016, obviously there wasn’t incentive for people to come out to the polls, people weren’t really feeling connected to the candidates … They didn’t really care as much as they do now,” Bavikatti said.