Students reflect on record voter turnout numbers as election comes to an end

Friday, November 6, 2020 - 5:08pm

Students line up outside of the UMMA to submit absentee ballots the day before the election.

Students line up outside of the UMMA to submit absentee ballots the day before the election. Buy this photo
Madeline Hinkley/Daily

Washtenaw County reported record levels of voter turnout this election, according to the Washtenaw County elections site

Roughly 67,986 Ann Arbor residents out of the more than 114,375 registered voters across the city cast a ballot in the election, a voter turnout rate of around 50%. Students also turned out at a rate of around 15% in Ann Arbor, with 7,368 expected student ballots cast.

The Michigan Daily obtained voting rate predictions from Neighbors for Democracy, an organization aimed at increasing voter turnout in Ann Arbor for the 2020 election. Final results demonstrated that turnout outperformed the organization’s original predictions by 16% for registrations and 10% for votes cast. Neighbors for Democracy predicted that 7,368 students would cast ballots, with numbers from the University of Michigan Museum of Art satellite polling station.  

Ann Arbor City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry said there were 5,412 registrations and 8,501 ballots turned in at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, a satellite polling station that opened in late September. 

According to a Michigan Daily survey of nearly 1,900 students from last month, out of the 1,845 University students registered to vote, only 33.3% were registered in the city of Ann Arbor.

Overall, nearly 20,000 ballots were cast from all five wards. As of now, it is estimated that about 7,368 University students cast their ballots in Ann Arbor for the 2020 general election.

In 2016, about 16,740 students voted in the general election out of about 25,557 who were registered. 

Grace Hermann, president of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, wrote in a statement to The Daily that students recognized the importance of their vote in this election and that efforts by student organizations helped increase voter turnout.

“In general, I think a lot of students on campus understood how much their vote meant this year, especially in a state as critical as Michigan, so it was really exciting to see young people not only stepping up and voting but also stepping up to make phone calls, send texts and volunteer to get out the vote,” Hermann said.

K.P. Unnikrishnan is a volunteer at Neighbors for Democracy, an organization that aimed to increase voter turnout in Ann Arbor for the 2020 election. Unnikrishnan said he became interested in this work when he found out that President Donald Trump won in Michigan by about 10,000 votes, the same number of people who did not vote in his own neighborhood of Ward 1 in Ann Arbor. 

“I needed to do something to increase voter turnout,” Unnikrishnan said. “We wanted to take on voters that were unlikely to vote in 2020 and pursue them till the end, until they had cast their ballot, either absentee or otherwise.”

Though the organization’s initial goal was to achieve a 75% voter turnout, the student voter turnout in 2020 was about 50%, as seen on a giant thermometer posted in front of the UMMA counting the percentage of the voting-eligible student body that had voted. 

Unnikrishnan said the turnout started at about 32% at the start of early voting and increased as Nov. 3 approached. He said he wishes the University’s administration offered more clarity on how students could vote.

“We put enormous pressure through Faculty Senate and even talked to the Board of Regents,” Unnikrishnan said. “President Schlissel sent an email to all students, and the email was two pages long. Nobody reads two-page-long emails. It could have just read: ‘Students, you just need your MCard, go to UMMA, change your registration and vote on the spot.’”

Nick Schuler, LSA sophomore and spokesperson for the University's chapter of College Republicans, wrote in a statement that he was happy with the organization’s efforts to get out the vote.

“We saw work on both sides of the aisle to turn out the vote and I’m glad it worked,” Schuler said. “Voting is a God-given right in the United States and we should use that. Voting is more important than for who. We look forward to the 2022 midterms and continuing our efforts to elect Republicans all across the state.” 

Andrew Schaeffler, co-founder of the student organization Students for Biden, said the group was excited that so many students used the UMMA to vote.

“We are super happy to see the large amount of turnout among students, even as some of these numbers might lag behind what turnout was expected,” Schaeffler said. “(We) hope that the University sees this as a building block for making voting more accessible, and continues to utilize this..”

Daily Staff Reporters Julia Forrest and Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at juforres@umich.edu and varshakv@umich.edu

 

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