As the deadline to register to vote nears, the Michigan Secretary of State is working to ensure that no student seeking to cast a ballot on Election Day misses the Oct. 9 filing date.
On Friday, the Secretary of State’s Mobile Office set up outside the Michigan League to serve as a temporary full service branch to register students and residents to vote. The office also allowed visitors to renew license plate tabs, sign up to be an organ donor and renew driver’s licenses.
The mobile office will visit more than 20 college campuses and community centers across Michigan as part of the 2012 ExpressSOS Voter Registration Drive, according to Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.
Woodhams said the office aims to assist students with voter registration, especially because they frequently change residences, and also provide the opportunity for them to take care of other services they need guidance on.
“Certainly when many people go to college, they want to update their registration address or they may not be registered at all,” Woodhams said. “So this created an opportunity for students in area residence to come out and register, and they can also conduct all of their other Secretary of State business there.”
He added that the Secretary of State’s office has been happy with its turnout so far, especially in their effort to influence political participation.
“We’ve been very pleased with the turnout at the events on other campuses,” Woodhams said. “ … It’s a great way to make sure their voice is heard on Election Day.”
Cynthia Wilbanks, the University’s vice president of government relations, said the efforts of the Secretary of State are indicative of the state’s ongoing emphasis on the importance of voting in November.
“The use of these mobile offices has been effective on college campuses,” Wilbanks said. “So it’s been a wonderful partnership, and I think we’ve found everyone to be very accommodating.”
In addition to serving as a convenient and practical opportunity for students and community members to register to vote, Wilbanks said the mobile office particularly resonates with her personally.
“I’m of the generation that had turned 18 when 18 year olds were first given the right to vote,” Wilbanks said. “So I use my own set of experiences going back to 1972 at Michigan and remembering the excitement about being registered for the first time and casting my vote in the 1972 election.”
She added that the mobile office, and efforts similar to it, are critical to promoting participation in democracy.
“What we want to do is encourage civic participation and civic engagement,” Wilbanks said. “The voting process is a very important part of what we hope students will carry (with them) the rest of their lives and that’s a significant level of civic engagement.”
Along with giving students a practical opportunity to register to vote, the mobile office helped to promote campus organizations that are also working to encourage student involvement in the election, Wilbanks said.
“This visit also helps to give visibility to the other voter registration activities that are on campus,” Wilbanks said. “There are lots of student organizations, like Central Student Government and Voice your Vote, that are important campus-led activities … that are also very much aligned with the goals of getting as many people to register to vote and eventually to vote.”
Rackham student Kimberly Reyes said convenience was a major factor in her visit to the mobile office, and she was glad to have the chance to take care of multiple things at once.
“I’m a graduate student and I’m super busy all the time,” Reyes said. “Not only did I have to register to vote for this election, but I also had to renew my license plates and take care of life stuff, so it does help to have it here and I can do it all at once.”
LSA senior Sarah Awad-Farid said the proximity of the mobile office to campus and lack of follow-up procedures was particularly helpful.
“I think this is a great opportunity for students to be able to register to vote,” Awad-Farid said. “It’s convenient for me, and honestly, it’s a great way to make sure, as a student, you are exercising your rights.”
The face-to-face interaction with the mobile office workers was also beneficial to help first-time voters prepare for the election, LSA sophomore Jonah Sementkowski said.
“The instructions online weren’t very efficient or helpful,” Sementkowski said. “I didn’t understand what I needed to do for the absentee ballot, so it’s nice that this is here.”
Annette Lozon, a University government relations associate, said the event is not only an opportunity for students to exercise their right to vote, but also a reminder about the importance of the election.
“It’s one more touch point to the community as a reminder that an election is coming,” Lozon said. “So maybe you already are registered to vote and you’ve got everything you need and you’re set, but it’s one more reminder about those ballot proposals, to take the time to look at them.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the voter registration deadline date.