Throughout the country, we have seen efforts to make voting more difficult, many of which target vulnerable populations, including students. From the closures of polling places to address and ID requirements, these efforts emphasize how appreciative we should be of Michigan officials like Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson who have made it easier to vote. However, these efforts should be the tip of the iceberg. With just more than a week until the U.S. presidential election, it is nothing short of a travesty that the University of Michigan hasn’t done anything beyond an ambiguous one-line reference in a mass email to encourage voting. The University administration should take many actions in the next few days to provide its students with valuable information related to casting their ballots, as described below.
It’s important to first look at the context of voting on campus. In 2016, only 44.7% of students voted, which isn’t a number to dwell on but one to build on. However, it is hard to say we’re building on that, as only approximately 2,600 students have registered so far at early voting locations on campus and only 2,900 have voted (according to estimates from officials). We have been afforded the incredible opportunity to not just have the University of Michigan Museum of Modern Art as an early voting location, but to also have drop boxes throughout campus where students can place their ballots. However, for students to vote, they need to have information about how and where to vote: What should they bring? What did the Oct. 19 deadline mean? Can they still register if they’re out of state?
These questions and more could be easily answered by an informative email sent to every student from the University. I encourage the University to send out an email publicizing the hours, days and locations of early voting in Ann Arbor (at Ann Arbor City Hall and the UMMA), as well as what documents are needed to vote. Also crucial is a reminder that students can vote during the stay-in-place order. This information should also be posted on the @UMich Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts, where students can both see it and share it. Sending all of this information in one, easy-to-follow infographic or email to every student would cause more students to fulfill their civic duty and empower students to share this information with others.
I also encourage each department to request professors spend 30 seconds at the beginning of every class from now until the election providing a reminder about early voting. Constant reminders are scientifically proven to drive up someone’s chance to vote, and this is a simple way to do it. Also, in synchronous classes, students can ask questions in the Zoom chat that can be answered on the spot, which is much more feasible (and, hopefully, more reliable) than students searching for these answers on the internet where specific, student-focused information is much harder to find.
It can be argued that this information is already out there and blasting out another email to “go vote” would be futile. However, these resources have been promoted almost exclusively through the work of student organizations and The Michigan Daily. Students who are not frequently on social media or on campus might miss many of these reminders. Furthermore, there’s no centralized place where students can go for information, with much of it coming in the form of Instagram graphics that tell half the story, or leave students with questions but no way to answer those questions. On top of this, no on-campus organization attempting to share information has the network, reach and influence that the University does, whether in a social media post or in an email to every student.
It could also be argued that students will simply vote on Election Day if they don’t find out about early voting, as everyone supposedly knows when Election Day is. While some will certainly vote on Election Day, that doesn’t mean that the University can’t take these simple actions to make sure students know about early voting and have the option to do it (as well as register to vote). Beyond this, given the ever-changing nature of COVID-19, we don’t know if it will be more dangerous to vote on Election Day. In addition, the lines will probably be longer due to social distancing protocols. It’s also important to note that early voting will ease the work of poll workers on Election Day, who are disproportionately older and senior citizens and more at-risk for COVID-19.
The University administration is in a unique position to easily and effectively communicate with all students. Simple messages with how and where to vote, along with the required documents, empowers our student-citizens to participate in democracy and vote on issues that impact us all. I ask the administration: you’ve said that you want students to raise their voices and vote, so why not send out some messages to facilitate and encourage our voting?
Andrew Schaeffler is a sophomore in the College of Literature, Science & the Arts and can be reached at email@example.com.
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