With the deadline for voter registration quickly approaching, political groups on campus are revving up their efforts to register as many voters as possible for the Nov. 5 general election, a task that one candidate says could shape the way interest groups respond to student concerns.
Twenty-eight-year-old Richard Bernstein, a 1996 University graduate, said his race for statewide office is being watched by power brokers in the state Democratic Party to determine how influential younger voters are. If elected to the Wayne State University Board of Governors this fall, he would be only the second blind person serving in any office in the state.
“It’s very easy to gauge the influence students have because (interest groups) can see where students are voting,” Bernstein said during a recent interview with The Michigan Daily.
An attorney and recent graduate of the Northwestern University Law School, Bernstein is the first blind person seeking statewide office. But voter turnout among students has traditionally been low, political analysts say.
“Generally, not even half of people under 24 vote,” said Ed Sarpolus, a pollster and vice president of the Lansing-based EPIC/MRA, Inc. “The problem of past experience is people on campus don’t follow politics.”
The University’s chapter of College Democrats was on the steps of the Michigan Union yesterday registering students and several groups plan to have voter registration tables on the Diag, in the basement of the Union and outside residence hall dining areas, between now and the Oct. 5 registration deadline.
In this year’s election, Michigan voters will choose their representatives at various levels of local, state and federal government, including governor, secretary of state, attorney general, congressional and state legislators and for two seats on the University of Michigan Board of Regents.
Mike Kubiak, field director for YouthVote, a coalition of groups seeking to register young voters, said his group has already registered 1,000 voters on its way to a goal of 8,000 for this election.
“Research in the past shows that young people talking to each other really increases the likelihood of voting,” said Kubiak, a recent University graduate.
Party nominees for all statewide-elected offices other than governor, like those running for the three top universities’ governing boards, are chosen at the parties’ state conventions, where internal politics are the norm.
Bernstein said unions, which hold considerable sway over the selection of Democratic candidates in Michigan, are watching to see how many students he brings to his race for the Wayne State board and will take the outcome into account when listening to students’ concerns in the future.
“Do you think the typical regent at the University of Michigan is accessible to students?” he asked rhetorically.
Active students from both ends of the political spectrum said one of their big goals is registering as many students as possible. Some are even urging out-of-state residents to register to vote in Michigan, considering the closely-watched governor’s race between Republican Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus and Democratic state Attorney General Jennifer Granholm.
“If you want to be an active, involved citizen, it’s a lot easier where you’re at,” said Music senior Kate MacEwen, campus co-chair of Students for Posthumus.
With control of both houses of Congress at stake, LSA junior Jon Monger, who was registering voters on the steps of the Union yesterday for the College Democrats, said, “It’s important to vote in Ann Arbor because Michigan is a critical swing state.”
HOW TO REGISTER
Registration tables will be on the Diag, at the Union, and in front of residence hall dining areas on various dates prior to the Oct. 5 registration deadline..
Another way to register is by picking up a registration form at any secretary of state or municipal clerk’s office as well as at the Michigan Department of State’s website at [begin ital.] www.michigan.gov/sos [end ital.]. Interim City Clerk Yvonne Carl said the best way to ensure of one’s registration is to mail the form to your city clerk or turn it in at a secretary of state’s office.
Prospective voters can register until Oct. 5.
Those wishing to obtain an absentee ballot should contact their city clerk once they receive their voter registration card. Some clerks require prospective voters to appear in person if this is their first time voting, although Carl said the Ann Arbor clerk’s office will accept a request made by phone.