With just six days remaining before the deadline to register to vote in Michigan, University Housing has barred all but three members of the only group that can sign up voters in residence halls from registering students in the dorms.

A University Housing staff member sent an e-mail Friday to the co-chairs of Voice Your Vote, a Michigan Student Assembly commission, telling them suspend all voter registration efforts in the residence halls. The staffer cited complaints she received about people registering voters in the dorms. One complaint alleged that one person tried to convince a student who was under 18 to use a fake birthday when registering. She also cited complaints of Voice Your Vote members wearing campaign buttons supporting Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama — a violation of the group’s agreement with the University, which requires it to remain non-partisan.

The University hasn’t shown evidence that the complaints are valid or that the people involved were acting as representatives of Voice Your Vote. In a statement, Housing spokesman Peter Logan said his department had restricted Voice Your Vote access to residence halls until concerns regarding the conduct of Voice Your Vote representatives can be resolved.

“We are meeting with VYV leaders soon, and hopefully University Housing will be assured that the registration campaign can resume in the halls,” he said.

Egler said she and Leiberman will meet with University Housing representatives at noon today to discuss the program’s future.

At 9 a.m. today, members of the College Democrats and lawyers from Obama’s campaign will also meet with representatives from University Housing and the Office of the General Counsel to discuss the College Democrats’s voter registration efforts on campus, according to a member of the College Democrats executive board who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize talks with the University.

In the e-mail to Egler and Leiberman, Housing staff member Lee Evilsizer said she wanted to meet with the two chairs “to reiterate the expectations around registering students to vote and to discuss whether the program will continue.”

While Voice Your Vote is the only group University Housing allows to register students in residence halls, several groups are working to register voters on campus. Those include the University’s chapter of the College Democrats, the Obama campaign, the nonprofit group Progressive Future, the political Action Committee MoveOn.org.

The College Democrats have not coordinated registration drives in the dorms, but it encourages its members to talk with their friends and neighbors about Obama and help them register to vote.

In the e-mail, Evilsizer said she received a complaint from a resident who said someone who offered to help him or her register to vote. The student wrote that after saying he or she wouldn’t be 18 before Election Day, “she asked if I would have voted for Obama. When I told her that I would have, she handed me a registration form and told me that 1991 could easily be mistaken for 1990 depending on my handwriting.”

The e-mail sent by Evilsizer did not indicate where or when the incident occurred, or which group the person who allegedly encouraged a student to falsify the form was affiliated with.

“Clearly this is not the registration efforts Housing had in mind when we agreed to allow VYV in the residence halls,” Evilsizer wrote in the e-mail.

Egler, who is also member of the College Democrats, said she was certain a Voice Your Vote volunteer wouldn’t express support for any candidate or encourage a student to violate federal law.

“Before sending volunteers out, we debrief them on Michigan voting laws,” Egler said. “We trust in the integrity of students who are willing to go out there and register voters with a non-partisan organization.”

The College Democrats executive board member said the group trains anyone registering voters in election law.

“Any College Democrat explicitly knows not to do that,” the member said. “We don’t teach that. We don’t endorse that.”

Leiberman, Egler and MSA President Sabrina Shingwani were the only Voice Your Vote representatives allowed to knock on doors during last night’s scheduled drive in Couzens Hall. In the e-mail, Evilsizer said Housing Security officers would escort from the building anyone not authorized to register voters in the dorms.

The three Voice Your Vote representatives were able to register seven students at Couzens, but most people they encountered were already registered, Egler said.

The group has registered about 750 people so far, Egler said. Voice Your Vote works with a coalition of student groups that run the gamut from advocacy organizations like the College Democrats and Republicans to multicultural groups like the Indian American Student Organization. The coalition has registered a total of about 4,500 voters — with the College Democrats accounting for 3,800 of those.

On Oct. 9, 2000, Voice Your Vote had registered about 5,000 voters, according to an article in The Michigan Daily.

Egler said she was frustrated when she got the e-mail from Evilsizer Friday, given that little more than a week remained before the voter registration deadline at the time.

“This is the last straw of bureaucratic roadblocks,” Egler said.

The College Democrats executive board member, who has worked for Voice Your Vote, said University Housing was hesitant to allow representatives from Voice Your Vote to register in the dorms. The member said Housing resisted efforts to put to put drop boxes for registration forms in University buildings.

“This is a crucial time and they’ve already delayed and stalled enough,” the member said. “The VYV dorm storms should have happened weeks ago. Then they put it right before the registration deadline. It’s a huge missed opportunity.”

A 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act requires universities receiving federal funding to make a “good-faith” effort to make sure all students have access to voter registration forms. Allowing Voice Your Vote to register students in residence halls would have helped the University stay in compliance with the mandate. But the University also encourages students to register to vote in other ways. Senior administrators have sent students a number of e-mails this fall with links to voter registration forms.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.