Canvassers campaigning for President Barack Obama or his Republican challenger in the 2012 presidential election may face new guidelines when soliciting support in University residence halls.
The University’s Residence Halls Association is aiming to create a collaborative group comprised of members of RHA, University Housing officials and other student groups, which would work to create guidelines and a long-term policy on canvassing in University residence halls. The development of the group was the subject of an RHA resolution passed by the association last Thursday.
LSA senior Mallory Jones, chair of the University’s undergraduate chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a former news editor for The Michigan Daily, said the ACLU and the University’s chapter of College Democrats hope to establish regulations in time for the 2012 election.
“Now we’re just ready to get a permanent policy in place, get input from anyone who is interested and would be affected by this policy and move on quickly,” Jones said.
Currently, only an interim policy is in place, Jones said. Anyone living in a residence hall is allowed to knock on doors within that hall to campaign for candidates or discuss any other political issues. Jones said this policy placed limitations on political activities within the residence halls during this past November’s elections since students who don’t live in a residence hall aren’t allowed to canvass in the building.
This interim policy will expire at the end of the semester, at which point the residence halls will return to the previous policy which only allows members of the Michigan Student Assembly or Voice Your Vote, an MSA commission that advocates for students to vote, to canvass in the residence halls, Jones said. She added that the College Democrats and the ACLU believe that a representative from any registered student organization should be able to campaign in the residence halls.
“We really thought it was important that we set up a working group to get the ball rolling on putting into place a better permanent policy,” Jones said.
The resolution passed last week doesn’t propose a new policy, but Jones said it does establish a working group to discuss the situation and potential policies. Jones also said it’s important to get this dialogue started since people were unsure of the canvassing rules in the 2008 and 2010 elections.
Business sophomore Trevor Grieb, president of RHA, wrote in an e-mail interview that the association supports the working group so that a permanent policy can eventually be adopted. He added that RHA doesn’t support one policy over another.
“Some representatives wanted no political activity in the dorms, others welcomed as much political activity as possible, as long as security was still strictly managed within the halls,” Grieb wrote.
Jones said the University has been willing to engage in discussion about potential policies, adding that ACLU decided to collaborate with RHA to give University Housing student feedback.
“They really wanted input from RHA since that is the organization that represents students living in the residence halls,” she said.
University Housing spokesman Peter Logan wrote in an e-mail interview that the residence halls are seen as the private homes of students living in them.
“University Housing has not allowed open access to the halls for door-to-door canvassing because it would compromise the privacy and security of the residents — not unlike someone entering your home and knocking on your bedroom door to advocate a candidate, an organization or a cause,” he wrote.
University Housing isn’t pushing for a particular policy in the working group and will continue an ongoing discussion on the topic since student opinions are valued in the creation of Housing policies, Logan wrote.
“We want to know what the RHA, as representatives of our resident students, feel is useful and appropriate for the housing communities and their residents, as well as what would be practical for Housing staff to manage,” he wrote.