East Lansing City Hall cites need for change after low student voter turnout

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By Colin Dilworth
Entirely East Lansing staff writer

The Nov. 5 East Lansing City Council election saw less than one percent of registered on-campus students cast their vote.

East Lansing City Clerk Marie Wicks attributed it to a lack of effort by the city.

“This past fall, I can say there really weren’t significant efforts,” Wicks said. “As far as this Fall goes, I didn’t see any efforts. I know Campus Democrats and Campus Republicans were trying to get students to be aware of this. ASMSU had a forum for students to be able to learn about the candidates. I have indicated to officials at MSU that I will speak to any group that invites me.”

East Lansing Mayor Diane Goddeeris said while City Council elections generally aren’t popular to begin with, it’s also a timing issue.

“Well, generally the state election usually drums up a lot of business,” Goddeeris said. “Part of the low turnout for students is a lot of them have just come here, and they’re registered to vote, but really haven’t learned about the community. So, they probably felt that they couldn’t vote on that, and maybe something else was more important, like school, to get established there.”

Goddeeris said the city still needs to make students more aware of local issues.

“Students that have been here for a while, again, they have to get to know these candidates but they’re also going to school at the same time,” Goddeeris said. “I think for us as a council, and I think all council members feel this way, we try to put as many opportunities out there to educate, and we want to encourage voting because it’s our right.”

One issue some raised by an election officer was the way Secretary of State handles what address students use after they turn 21.

“I have to admit that I’m still trying to fully understand the issue,” Wicks said. “We know that there is a trigger when students turn 21, and they get their new 21-year-old license. We’re told by the Secretary of State that nothing can happen without you signing off or giving permission, but I was actually having a discussion with a precinct chair, and she characterized this as sort of a change by omission. So, if you don’t sign off on something, what happens is it defaults to that permanent address. So, it strikes me that students probably have to proactively make sure that they go to the Secretary of State when you’re at that age, make sure that your voter registration stays where you want it to be.”

Wicks said that issue still shouldn’t keep the city from doing a better job of encouraging students to vote.

“We can’t have this happen again,” Wicks said. “We have to have more student participation, particularly in the even-year governor and presidential elections. It’s my opinion that you don’t wait until September to engage students in an election that will be held in November. It’s a lesson to all of us that, with this turnout, we need to do a much better job.”

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