By Jessie Martens
Entirely East Lansing
Picking winners will not be the biggest election challenge of 2016. That could be getting Michigan State students to vote in the primary during their spring break. East Lansing is making student voting initiatives a priority to get out the student vote.
Michigan’s primary election registration deadline is Feb. 1. The day the primary election is held is March 8, right in the middle of MSU’s spring break that runs from March 7 to the 11. Suchitra Webster, community liaison for MSU and YouVote co-chair, said this will be a challenge to ramp up its efforts in 2016 and that it will certainly impact student turnout.
Young people, ages 18 to 29, make up 21 percent of the voting population. Yet, voter turnout for students lagged behind other age groups for the 2014 election.
Political Science Major Justin Carpenter said, “Each American has a civic responsibility to try to better this country in any way they can and to have their voices heard to decide the direction the nation should take.”
Michigan State is trying to improve that percentage through a group called YouVote. YouVote is MSU’s non-partisan voting initiative. YouVote involves faculty, staff, students and city representatives around the concept of increasing voter registration, education and engagement in the East Lansing area.
MSU Vice President for Governmental Affairs Bryn Williams says that for the upcoming presidential year YouVote will be, “focusing their efforts on absentee registration and getting the word out about how simple it is to register as an absentee voter.”
The problem with absentee voting, Williams said, is that first-time voters have to vote in person or register with a city clerk or someone who is deputized. Williams is trying to get himself, as well as other members of the staff deputized to make this step easier for first time voters.
Another way Michigan State is working on voting initiatives is with ASMSU. One way it is helping students is by providing an online registration element that is meant to make the registration process easier for students; It’s called turbovote (asmsu.turbovote.org). Suchitra Webster, community liaison for MSU and YouVote co-chair, says that ASMSU has “been working intensively to make sure students are civically engaged and involved in elections.”
After registration, YouVote moves on to educating students about what will be on the ballot next election and how these items will affect their lives. Williams said they do this education component through widely distributed bios, flyers, educational events and maintaining a social media/web presence.
Between 1996 and 2008 Voter Turnout rate increased by about 10 percent in voters aged 18-29, as shown in the graph on the left. But in more recent elections voter turnout has been decreasing. The initiative to get young people to register may be working, but the number who actually show up to vote remains below the rest of the age groups.
According to a 2010 census study the top five reasons young people don’t show up to vote is because they are out of town or away from home, not interested, they forgot to vote, they are too busy or have conflicting work to do. College students are more likely to put being away from home as a reason for not voting compared to young people not in college who were more likely to put “not interested” or “miscellaneous other reasons.”
“Participation by all is imperative for our democracy to function and students in particular should use their time in college to pursue, in addition to academic studies, learning about community, being a good neighbor and citizenship. Voting is an essential right and obligation of citizenship and I believe the sooner students begin voting, the more engaged they will stay,” East Lansing City Clerk Marie Wicks said.