After being suspended Friday for alleged violations of University policy and election law, voter registration resumed in the residence halls with full force.
Voice Your Vote, a non-partisan Michigan Student Assembly commission and the only group authorized to register students door-to-door in the residence halls, was temporarily barred from carrying out its planned drive in Couzens Hall Monday.
The group’s access to the residence halls was restricted after University Housing staff member Lee Evilsizer said she received complaints about students registering voters in the dorms.
Voice Your Vote co-chairs Hannah Lieberman and Rebecca Egler and Michigan Student Assembly President Sabrina Shingwani met with University Housing representatives, Evilsizer, Assistant Dean of Students Susan Wilson and Trelawny Boynton, an associate director in residence education, yesterday afternoon to discuss the group’s conduct in the residence halls.
After the meeting, Voice Your Vote was granted access to the residence halls again.
In an e-mail statement, Housing spokesman Peter Logan wrote, “the meeting today between University Housing and Voice Your Vote went very well, and concerns that led to the meeting have been resolved.”
Logan did not return several messages seeking further information regarding the incident.
Evilsizer told Egler and Lieberman in an e-mail sent Friday she had received complaints that alleged a person tried to convince a student who would not be 18 on Election Day to use a fake birth date when registering.
In the e-mail, Evilsizer also cited complaints of Voice Your Vote members wearing campaign buttons supporting Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama — a violation of the group’s pledge to remain non-partisan.
In an interview after yesterday’s meeting, Lieberman, an LSA junior, denied that Voice Your Vote representatives acted in a partisan way.
Lieberman went on to say that specific alleged incidents weren’t discussed during the meeting.
“There was no need to discuss the specifics of the incidents because we both had a mutual understanding of where Voice Your Vote stands on non-partisanship,” she said.
LSA senior Shingwani, who is a member of Voice Your Vote, said she was she was certain those accused of violating Housing’s policy weren’t members of Voice Your Vote.
“I don’t know who was responsible for that, nor does Housing,” she said.
Only Lieberman, Egler and Shingwani were allowed to go door-to-door Monday for a planned registration drive in Couzens.
Everyone trained and authorized by Voice Your Vote — about 70 people, according to Lieberman — is now allowed to register students in the residence halls.
In a separate meeting yesterday, representatives from University Housing and the Office of the General Counsel met with representatives of the College Democrats and lawyers for the Obama campaign to “review and clarify the University’s Campaign Guidelines,” Logan said.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that those to whom we grant access to University residence halls follow University (including Housing) policies as well as state and federal laws,” he said. “Those policies preclude partisan door-to-door activities, consistent with our obligations under state and federal law not to endorse candidates or use public resources to support or oppose candidates or ballot proposals.”
An amendment added to the Higher Education Act when it was renewed in 1989 requires that any university receiving federal funding make a “good-faith” effort to provide students with access to voter registration forms.
To comply, the University encourages students to register to vote through Voice Your Vote drives and other methods. Senior administrators have also sent students a number of e-mails this fall with links to voter registration forms and mail-in forms were also distributed in dorm mailboxes.
Several Voice Your Vote volunteers said they were frustrated with Housing, claiming the University wasn’t working with them in their attempts to hold registration drives in the residence halls or put drop boxes for registration forms in University buildings.
“This is the last straw of bureaucratic roadblocks,” Egler, an LSA sophomore, told The Michigan Daily earlier this week.
Policies governing voter registration in residence halls vary from school to school.
Like Michigan, Ohio State University has a similar policy prohibiting partisan groups from canvassing or registering voters in residence halls. Ohio State administrators have worked with the school’s Undergraduate Student Government-sponsored “OSU Vote,” a non-partisan group similar to Voice Your Vote.
Ohio State senior Anne Evans, government relations director for the OSU student government, said OSU Vote is an alliance of several groups on campus, including College Democrats and College Republicans. The group has registered voters at tables in every residence hall and also hosted events during welcome week.
During move-in, Resident Advisors explained how to fill out and turn in voter registration forms at hall meetings.
“Student life has been essential in providing us the support in the residence halls and pretty much anything we need on campus,” Evans said.
Ohio State spokeswoman Ruth Gerstner said the Office of Student Life works to support the group in their efforts.
“They are all working together,” Gerstner said of the OSU Vote coalition. “As administrators in student life, we are not doing the actual voter registration but we are assisting the students.”
A Michigan State University initiative called “You Vote” also works to register students, but does not sponsor any residence hall-based voter registration drives. But that doesn’t mean Michigan State dorm residents haven’t had students knock on their doors and offer to sign them up to vote.
Michigan State policy allows any registered student group to recruit members in the dorms, including the College Democrats and College Republicans. Paul Goldenblatt, director of Residence Life at Michigan State, said student recruitment in the residence halls is not considered solicitation.
“They are registered student organizations,” he said. “They have a right to be in the residence halls as long as they aren’t being overly disruptive or insistent.”
Brad Dennis, a Michigan State sophomore and voter registration coordinator for his school’s chapter of the College Republicans, said his group is canvassing the residence halls and recruiting members. When a canvasser finds a student who supports Republican presidential nominee John McCain, they have the person fill out a voter registration form.
“Because it’s for the actual group, we’re offering membership for the group as we’re doing it, it’s considered student recruitment,” Dennis said.
George Schuttler, president of the Michigan State Democrats, said the school’s administration has been very cooperative with their voter registration drive
“We’re a student organization and we have that access,” he said. “They haven’t tried to prevent us from doing anything thus far and everything’s cool.”
– Matt Aaronson contributed to this report.