On Nov. 4, University of Michigan students filled the Diag as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stepped out of her campaign bus to rally the young crowd. With her was Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Secretary of Transportation. The next day, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., made his own stop in Ann Arbor, encouraging students to vote for the Democrats in the looming 2022 midterms.
Their mission: Get out the college student vote.
They succeeded. On Election Day, young people made up a much-larger-than-usual voting bloc. University of Michigan students waited for hours to cast their ballots at a campus polling place, giving Michigan Democrats a boost in what could have been close races. The Blue Blitz paid off, with Whitmer and her allies winning another term in each of the state’s four state-wide offices, this time with a Democratic Michigan House of Representatives and state Senate. All three progressive ballot measures were also approved.
The race was called and many Wolverines rejoiced — even though many of them are not from Michigan. Students from across the country who had registered to vote in Ann Arbor celebrated the triumph of their values. Michigan, a swing state, had swung left, and they had helped.
And when summer comes and they return home, they leave the people of Michigan to live with the results of the election. For this reason, these students need to be voting in their home states. Absentee ballots exist precisely for this reason. Even New Hampshire, the hardest state to vote in, only requires a simple form. The process is designed so that those abroad on Election Day, including students, can still vote in their own communities.
Many people in line at the campus polling place, however, missed the deadline to fill out these forms. Procrastinating paperwork was not the only force driving out-of-state students to register in Michigan; strategic voting also played a large role. Over a quarter of U-M undergraduate students come from deep-blue California, Illinois, New York or New Jersey.
A Democratic vote in Chicago or Newark is a blue drop in a vast ocean. A Democratic vote in Michigan could change the color of the whole state.
President Joe Biden said democracy was on the ballot, and Michigan’s Republican gubernatorial candidate was an election denier. Roe v. Wade was overturned, and polling on Proposal 3, which would guarantee reproductive rights, looked uncertain.
Mobilized by national leaders and consequential issues, many out-of-state students accurately concluded that a ballot in Michigan has a higher chance of swaying elections than a ballot in Illinois or California. So they cast one here. LSA freshman Ava Hammerman, who voted in Ann Arbor, explains, “I voted in Michigan because my vote has more of an impact here than in Maryland, which is much more blue. It is important to vote in a state that I can help swing.”
But what does this difference in voting power mean for lifelong Michiganders? Was our political system meant to contend with these issues of out of state votes?
Michigan’s political diversity is a feature, not a flaw. An out-of-state vote in Michigan does not answer a defect, it dilutes the influence of permanent residents. Abortion, immigration, gun control and education may be less contentious issues in liberal cities and states, but not in Michigan. In future elections, it should not be so easy for non-Michiganders to influence the issues Michiganders feel so passionately about.
Federalism, the bedrock of the United States, is based on local people making local decisions. State governments are meant to represent the interests of their constituents, not temporary lodgers. Though out of state students live here for four years, and any state-level policies will impact them, they certainly do not have a comprable insight to lifelong Michiganders.
A student living only in a dorm, paying few taxes and counting down the days until they can return to New York has little of the knowledge necessary to cast an informed vote in Michigan, and they are far less affected by the results. Most important issues on the ballot are not as flashy as reproductive rights or the governor. Further down the ticket, local judges, city council, the mayor and state representatives are equally important.
These are serious contests with significant consequences for people in the community. But they lack the heavyweight titles and gravitas to excite out-of-staters driven by national issues. Even within Michigan, the idea of a Detroiter voting for the Ann Arbor School Board is absurd, let alone another person with permanent residence hundreds of miles away doing so.
Many students feel like they are wasting their ballot voting in their deep blue home state, but they are wrong. The small races that really define a community all demand their voice. America is a country built on communities, and the nationalization of politics has had very negative impacts for them. Detroit, Ann Arbor, Chicago and New York all have their own neighborhoods with their own problems that require a highly localized response.
The diversity that makes America special manifests itself in school boards and city halls. These seats of local government should be emblematic of the people living there.
The big issues still matter. Election denial must stop and women must have the right to choose, but it is up to local people to make it happen. And they usually do a good job — Trump’s handpicked conspiracy theorists lost at the polls. Only nine states prohibit abortion with no exceptions and Michigan is not one of them. So, to all the out-of-staters who voted in Ann Arbor, your own community needs your vote more. Michigan does a good job on its own.
Jack Brady is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org