Voter turnout for Michigan’s primary was embarrassing. For a university that prides itself on political activism and civic engagement, the apparent lack of interest was stifling – but more importantly, it was representative of a more complicated problem that needs to be addressed. The most obvious scapegoat is the student body itself. Our generation is constantly accused of political apathy, and in some cases this may be warranted. But more often a lack of a unified message or organization is better representative of the problem, rather than apathy. Students actually have an interest in politics, but we generally lack an understanding of or belief in the enormous impact we can have in politics.
But in this year’s primary there was much blame to be shared. The Democratic National Committee undeniably decreased the importance of all Michigan voters by taking away our delegates to the Democratic National Convention – literally taking away the voice of an entire state. The same can be said for the Republican National Committee when it cut the number of Michigan delegates in half. The question, “does my vote really count?” never rang more true than it did this year. In taking away our voice, both the DNC and the RNC eradicated any semblance of motivation and excitement surrounding what could have been a highly influential election.
Outside of national politics, however, our campus shares in the responsibility. The e-mail sent out by the Michigan Student Assembly and the Voice Your Vote Commission was inexcusably late because of a number of extenuating circumstances. Sending out an e-mail to 40,000 students is significantly more complicated than just pushing send. We assure the student body that we had written the e-mail under the assumption that it would have reached the student body much earlier.
This brings us to a much deeper issue. Since its inception, Voice Your Vote has been solely responsible for the nonpartisan registration, education and turnout of student voters. Though in the past this organization has done a more than commendable job, every year there have been insurmountable barriers to our efforts put in place by different parts of the University.
Professors do not grant the organization access to their classes for voter registration, nor do the department heads urge them to. University buildings have not yet allowed Vote Your Vote to place voter registration drop boxes at easily accessible locations around campus. Housing allows Voice Your Vote access to the dorms once a year but does not currently have any self-sustainable voter registration policy. Voice Your Vote is hoping to train resident advisers directly, have available registration forms at all residence hall front desks and make voter registration a priority rather than an afterthought for housing. Moreover, the University’s seeming lack of interest in providing its students with either information about voter registration or actual registration forms is in direct violation of the Higher Education Act of 1998, which is a federal law requiring public universities to make a “good faith effort” to provide voter registration forms to its students.
Last Monday, University President Mary Sue Coleman’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Symposium introduction emphasized the power and importance of voting: “Dr. King said: ‘Life’s most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?’ All of us can answer that question by stepping into the voting booth, thoughtfully engaging in a sacred rite, and shaping our world.” We challenge Coleman to put her words into action and support a real, effective, institutionalized voter registration policy. One currently does not exist – but it must.
Hannah Fishman and Jonathon Kendall
LSA Seniors and co-chairs of Voice your Vote