University student voter turnout nearly tripled in midterm election

Sunday, October 20, 2019 - 3:16pm

Voter turnout among University of Michigan students increased nearly threefold in the 2018 midterm elections, jumping from 14 percent in 2014 to 41 percent.

Voter turnout among University of Michigan students increased nearly threefold in the 2018 midterm elections, jumping from 14 percent in 2014 to 41 percent. Buy this photo
Annie Klus/Daily

Some attribute a jump in University of Michigan student voter turnout in 2018 to increased efforts in getting students registered, and hope the passage of Proposal 3 in the 2018 Michigan midterms will make these results increase even more in future elections.

Proposal 3 amended the state constitution to expand access to voting. The proposal added eight policies, including allowing same-day voter registration, straight-party voting and absentee ballot voting by mail without having to provide a reason. 

Last month, the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement released data on the voting patterns of college students in the 2018 midterm elections. Voter turnout among University of Michigan students increased nearly threefold in the 2018 midterm elections, jumping from 14 percent in 2014 to 41 percent. Nationally, the college-age voter turnout rate doubled from about 19 percent to about 40 percent in 2018, putting the University slightly above the national average. 

Prior to the elections, the University and other colleges around the country ramped up efforts to get students registered and to the polls. On campus, Erin Byrnes, lead for democratic engagement, headed the Big Ten Voting Challenge, a competition among Big Ten schools to increase student voter turnout. The challenge had an in-person presence through voter registration tabling and parties at the polls on election day, as well as online through Canvas and Wolverine Access. 

According to the University’s Big Ten Voting Challenge website, preliminary data shows that turnout among Big Ten schools increased by 224 percent in 2018, compared to the 164 percent increase at non-Big Ten schools. Byrnes attributes the increase in student turnout to the education efforts of the Big Ten Voting Challenge, as well as students’ current political awareness.

“I think it’s a good mix of that nonpartisan push for engagement among our students, and also a sign of the times that people are really dialed in,” Byrnes said.

Maya Chamra, LSA junior and Students for Warren co-organizer, said increasing student voter turnout is important because it allows youth to have their voices heard on the matters they care about. 

“In order to see the changes we need to better help our lives as students, we need to emphasize participation in the political process,” Chamra said. “This means emphasizing to students how much their voice and vote matters, and how voting can impact the policy changes related to student life.”

Byrnes confirmed that the Big Ten Voting Challenge will be continuing for next year’s election, and that they’re setting their sights high for turnout numbers. Student voter turnout is typically higher in presidential elections, with the NSLVE reporting 48.4 percent student voter turnout in 2016. 

The turnout on Ann Arbor’s campus fell short of that average. 

“In 2016, our voter turnout on Ann Arbor campus was around 45 percent. I would like to see that increase to anywhere from 75 to 80 percent at minimum,” Byrnes said. “Of course, we would love to be at 100 percent, but we’re setting high marks, we’re setting high goals, and I think we can do it.”

Camille Mancuso, Public Policy junior and communications director for the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said the organization expects the upward trend in turnout to continue into 2020. 

“The energy from the 2018 election has only grown throughout this off-year, and we expect it to continue as we move into 2020,” Mancuso said. 

LSA senior Alexa Klemundt, a member of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said a reason behind the voter increase might be that voting information is more accessible to students now than ever before. 

“We’re becoming more self-aware and we’re able to do our research more easily, rather than just relying on the library back in the day,” Klemundt said.

Klemundt said the importance of voter turnout is undeniable.

“It’s definitely important for students because we’re the up and coming generation,” Klemundt said. “We’re going to be the next generation of leaders.”

Mancuso said she hopes Proposal 3 will make it easier for students to vote in 2020. 

“Michigan has had enormous voter accessibility problems, many of them affecting college students,” Mancuso said. “Our organization was even involved in a lawsuit regarding student voter accessibility, so we are happy to see the changes from (Proposal 3) being implemented by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. We are definitely hopeful that these new policies will make it easier for students to vote across the state.”

Byrnes said she was excited by the changes brought along by Proposal 3, which will make it easier for the Big Ten Voting Challenge to register students to vote up to the day of the election. 

“I think probably one of the biggest pieces of progress and most important elements of (Proposal 3) for us would be the removal of the 30-day voter registration deadline,” Brynes said. “Having that safety net for us will be huge.” 

Byrnes said they are also excited about the online voter registration platform starting in Michigan. 

“I think these advancements in technology and greater access to the ballot can only be good in general for our democracy, specifically for the student population,” Byrnes said. 

Chamra agreed that Proposal 3 makes it easier for students to vote, and she expects student voter turnout to increase in next year’s presidential election. 

“Student groups are already working to register students to vote, especially during a year without any state-wide elections, which will allow more students to vote in 2020,” Chamra said. “Because of Prop. 3, there are fewer barriers to voting, so more students will have an easier time voting.”

Chamra added the current political climate could contribute to an increase in student voter turnout as well. 

“I think more students are engaged in politics since the 2016 election,” Chamra said. “Youth activism is on the rise, from the Green New Deal to gun reform legislation, and (youth) are being encouraged now more than ever to go out to vote.”