University of Michigan students have the opportunity to make history this fall. By taking the simple but critical step of casting a ballot, you as college-age voters will stand apart from your predecessors.

The facts are stark: Young adults are less likely to vote than older people. In the last presidential election, 65 percent of people 29 and younger turned out at the polls, according to the American National Election Studies, based at the University’s Institute for Social Research. Contrast that turnout with up to 85 percent of voters in the 46-77 age range, and you can see that our younger voices are not being heard at the polls.

You can change that on Nov. 4.

I encourage all students to learn about the candidates and issues, make educated choices at the ballot box, and then hold our elected officials accountable. Each of us as individuals can influence the issues that affect all of us as a society.

Our campus has a rich history of political engagement. Young Republicans from across the country met here in 1892, joined by President William McKinley, to create the National Republican College League – today known as the College Republicans. The first leader of the organization, James Burke, was a Michigan law student who would go on to a congressional career.

Fast forward some 70 years, and another University student is inspiring left-leaning young people with a manifesto known as the Port Huron Statement. Tom Hayden would co-found Students for a Democratic Society, which energized students nationwide in 1962 with its clarion call to participatory democracy: “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.”

The political views of Michigan students have always run the political gamut, and always will. A survey of last year’s incoming freshmen showed 43 percent consider themselves liberal or far left, 19 percent feel they are conservative or far right and 38 percent describe themselves as middle of the road when it comes to politics. Your diverse beliefs and opinions not only create a special dynamism on our campus, they also enhance the political discourse we need to shape our country’s future.

For many of our undergraduates, this November presents the first opportunity to vote. In addition to selecting our next president, voters of all ages will show their support for U.S. senators and representatives, local officials and ballot initiatives.

Each and every vote cast has the power to shape the course of our community, our nation and beyond.

The deadline for registering to vote in Michigan is Monday, Oct. 6. The Secretary of State will set up a mobile branch on campus tomorrow near the Michigan League. October 6 is also the deadline for Ohioans to register. Other states have different deadlines: Illinois residents have until Oct. 7, New Yorkers have until Oct. 10, where Massachusetts residents have an Oct. 15 deadline and Californians can register up to Oct. 20. To learn more about how and when to register, Rock the Vote ( is an excellent resource.

Regardless of the political badge we wear, we have an obligation to be educated, engaged citizens and to participate fully in the process that is the foundation of our democracy.

Go Blue: Go vote.

Mary Sue Coleman is the president of the University of Michigan.

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