Annual Voice Your Vote residence hall crawl focuses on freshman

Tuesday, October 4, 2016 - 6:39pm

With the presidential election only weeks away, Voice Your Vote, a Central Student Government commission, organized a residence hall crawl last week where volunteers went door to door in freshman dorms to encourage students to register to vote.

The commission has organized a crawl each semester for the past six years with the financial support of CSG.

LSA junior Sara Lebow, chair of Voice Your Vote, said visiting dorms is just one part of their coordinated voter registration plans. Voice Your Vote and other political clubs across the University of Michigan have also done multiple registration-related events on the Diag, in Mason Hall and in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, starting even before students returned to campus.

Lebow said the Voice Your Vote commission has found that many upperclassmen students already registered or don’t know to change their address each time they move, but freshmen still need to register before Michigan’s Oct. 11 registration deadline.

“A lot of times it is easier to register freshmen since they know it needs to happen,” Lebow said. “A lot of other people on campus don’t know they need to change their address every time they move, so they will forget to. Overall, people have been way more excited about registering this year than when we do it during an off-season.”

Along with the nonpartisan Voice Your Vote commission, College Democrats and College Republicans at the University of Michigan both say they are working to get students registered to vote. LSA junior Collin Kelly, president of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, noted that the political club has also been hosting its own events on campus.

“This year we have already hosted several amazing speakers on behalf of Hillary Clinton, most prominently the next vice president of the United States, Senator Tim Kaine,” Kelly said. “With Michigan as a potential battleground state for the first time in years, we are expecting to have many more prominent politicians and celebrities coming to campus.”

LSA junior Enrique Zalamea, president of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said their organization has hosted similar events to support Republican candidates.

“We also foster an inclusive community of young conservatives through social events such as debate viewing parties and nonpartisan and partisan guest speakers,” Zalamea said.

The two partisan groups differ slightly in approach and outcome — Kelly said registering voters has also benefited their organization, because many students on campus support Democratic candidates.

“Voter registration is a nonpartisan effort, but because students are overwhelmingly Democratic, getting them engaged directly benefits our club and progressive causes in general,” Kelly said.

College Republicans has taken a different strategy by promoting its political party in the larger picture, according to Zalamea.

“During election years, we help students get registered to vote, but given the large liberal population on campus, this year we have decided to focus on working with the national, congressional and state campaigns,” Zalamea said.

Lebow added that since Voice Your Vote is not affiliated with either political party, it has the ability to register students in a way that other groups may not be able to.

“Since we are nonpartisan and with student government, we are the only group that can go door to door in the dorms,” Lebow said. “That’s where it is really advantageous because we can go straight to people’s rooms and ask them to register.”

Though the residence hall crawl only goes on for a week, the commission has already registered 800 new voters before the presidential primaries, which Lebow called a success.  

“We are an effective group because we are pretty close and goal oriented, so we get a decent amount done,” Lebow said. “You can see in increases in registration rates from what we are doing.”

She added that the students who volunteer for Voice Your Vote are a mix of individuals on the commission and also members of other political groups on campus. Volunteers from political groups on campus serve as nonpartisan volunteers when they work with Voice Your Vote in the dorms.

“The people who do it are mainly our commission, but anyone on campus is allowed to get involved,” Lebow said. “We reached out to a number of political and volunteer groups all across the political spectrum and we got several volunteers.”

College Democrats is one of the political groups that has been working directly with Voice Your Vote during its residence hall crawl.

“We are working with the coordinated campaign office in Ann Arbor, and between our groups we are out on campus every day, registering thousands of students,” Kelly said. “Voice Your Vote is doing tremendous work in the dorms, and we have been working with them to get College Democrats volunteers to help out with their efforts.”

College Republicans has also been volunteering with Voice Your Vote in addition to its own registration events throughout the semester.

“We still continue to host voter registration drives three times a week in addition to informing all our members about the Voice Your Vote initiative last week,” Zalamea said.

Lebow said she thought the commission allows CSG to create a stronger presence on campus and build connections with new students.

“I think that a lot of freshmen don’t even know what Central Student Government is, so this shows that there are commissions that do these kind of things and get things done,” she said.

She added that while registration is an important factor, voter turnout on election day is even more significant in the end, noting that the commission plans to encourage turnout through social media campaigns and raffles.

LSA senior Blake McCarren, a member of the commission, said he thinks Voice Your Vote’s success lies in the ease they lend to the registration process.

“We make the registration process as easy as possible,” he said. “Someone moves two feet and they’re like, ‘Wow I don’t have to do anything. We take everything difficult out of the equation.’ ”