Ann Arbor City Clerk opens satellite office in UMMA to encourage civic engagement among students

Tuesday, September 22, 2020 - 9:38pm

A satellite office for the general election opens up at the University of Michigan Museum of Art Tuesday afternoon.

A satellite office for the general election opens up at the University of Michigan Museum of Art Tuesday afternoon. Buy this photo
Michael Bagazinski/Daily

The Ann Arbor City Clerk opened a satellite office at the University of Michigan Museum of Modern Art Tuesday morning, allowing residents to register to vote and drop off their absentee ballots at the new location. The office will be open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will be open on Saturdays the week prior to the election. 

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson made an appearance at the UMMA to celebrate the opening of the satellite office and congratulate Jackie Beaudry, Ann Arbor city clerk. The opening took place on National Voting Registration Day.

“City clerks are stepping up this year to develop important partnerships with community leaders and grassroots organizations all around the state to make voting accessible and secure, ensuring that every vote is counted and every voice is heard,” Benson said.

Art & Design professor Stephanie Rowden is part of the Creative Campus Voting Project, a nonpartisan initiative to encourage civic engagement on campus. Rowden helped install the satellite office and said having the location on campus will make it easier for students to vote. Voter turnout among University students has lagged historically.

“This is really about helping students move from a clear intent to vote to actually being able to do what they want to do, which is to use their voice,” Rowden said. “We also know that once you start voting young, you develop a positive lifelong habit around voting.” 

The Big Ten Voting Challenge, a national nonpartisan initiative to encourage voting among students, will have volunteers at the UMMA during opening hours to register students who want to vote outside of Ann Arbor and in other states. 

Erin Byrnes, a Big Ten Voting Challenge leader, said opening up the UMMA as a voter registration location is especially important amid the challenges to in-person voting posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Especially right now, in the context of COVID-19, we really want to make sure that students know where they need to go to get support around getting registered and completing an absentee ballot,” Byrnes said. “Having this at UMMA is a phenomenal partner for all of our voting work. It’s a central location on Central Campus and it’s highly visible, so for them to open the space for this type of work really means a lot.”

LSA sophomore Lindsey Haughton, a volunteer helping students register to vote, said she loved that the office was located in the UMMA.

“I love the UMMA, personally,” Haughton said. “I know that UMMA’s been doing study days and things and I know last year I would hang out here, so I’m really happy to be back and doing something that I’m really passionate about.”

LSA sophomore Emma Uebelhor also helped students register to vote on Tuesday. She mentioned that the pandemic has prevented volunteers from tabling across campus.

“During regular years, what we were planning to do was tabling literally everywhere, in Mason Hall and all over the campus,” Uebelhor said. “Because we’re not able to safely table and be all over the place on campus, it’s really important to have a physical place where people can go to if they’re confused on how to register to vote.”

The opening of the office aligns with the University’s Democracy & Debate theme semester, which is centered around voting initiatives and democratic engagement. In October 2019, the University announced plans to host a presidential debate prior to the general election, but later reneged on its offer due to concerns about the coronavirus.

Public Policy senior Grace Hermann, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, wrote in a statement to The Michigan Daily that the new office will help increase student engagement in the upcoming election.

“We’re thrilled that the UMMA has become a satellite office for voter registration,” Hermann said. “It is especially important now that it is harder for student organizations to register people in person in places like Mason Hall. Considering that roughly half of UM’s student body are out of state students who do not have the Michigan license/ID necessary to register to vote online, having a place on campus to register in person will help combat student disenfranchisement this November.”

LSA sophomore Nick Schuler, vice chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, wrote in a statement that the organization’s members “support voting!”

Byrnes said encouraging absentee voting will reduce the line to the polls in November, making it easier and safer for people to vote in person.

“Our hope is that we will see foot traffic here, in keeping with public health guidance, but we hope with that traffic and students completing an absentee ballot and essentially voting early in Michigan, that that will help increase turnout and also decrease lines at the polls,” Byrnes said.

The Big Ten Voting Challenge results from 2018 showed that Ohio State beat Michigan by 1 percent. 

Public Policy professor Edie Goldenberg, who researches voter turnout among college-aged students, said she believes this satellite office, along with the University’s online voting tool, will encourage students to vote in the upcoming election. She also noted the impact of reforms, like the passage of Proposal 3 in 2018, which amended the state constitution to expand access to voting.

“We didn’t win in 2018, but we came close,” Goldenberg said. “Ohio State beat us by 1 percent, (but) we have much better voting rules today than we did in 2018, which ought to make it much easier for students to vote. That means online registration, same day registration, automatic registration, no excuse absentee voting and so forth.”

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor also attended the opening of the office.

“It’s my hope that the satellite office will expand registration and turnout here in Michigan and here and in Ann Arbor,” Taylor said. “But it’s also my hope that it will serve as a constant reminder to students whose residences are elsewhere that they have the opportunity to vote absentee, and that it will encourage them to do so.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Jasmin Lee can be reached at itsshlee@umich.edu.

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