By Natasha Blakely
MI First Election
The 2016 presidential election comes to Michigan with Republican and Democratic primaries on March 8. To participate, first-time voters must register by Feb. 8.
Campaign workers in both parties as well as non-partisan advocates are trying to get students to register.
John Dowell, a commitee member with Michgan State’s YouVote said, “Democracy only belongs to those who participate. As a result, it can become a ‘use it or lose it’ sort of right. And it is an American right; it’s not a privilege, not a special entitlement of the monied, property-owning aristocracy. So many people have sacrificed so much to grant that right as Americans, from the Revolutionary War’s ‘shot heard round the world’ to ‘Bloody Sunday’ on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to far beyond.”
YouVote is a non-partisan voting initiative aimed at educating students on candidates and issues, and increasing student registration and voting.
Local clerks and elections workers are also trying to get out the vote. East Lansing City Clerk Marie Wicks said people should not be intimidated by the process because clerks and elections workers will assist them.
There are 218,959,000 eligible voters in the United States. Does it matter if one person does not bother to vote? It does when 72,648,000 people do not register. That is one third of eligible voters not registering.
To put those numbers into perspective, the Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor holds roughly 107,000 people. That means almost 219 Michigan Stadiums full of people not registering. To the people who care about voting, these numbers are striking.
“I think it is extremely disappointing, to say the least,” said Wicks. “I also know that students are very busy and while they may intend to vote, it can fall off the radar if something more pressing arises. At the end of the day however, we need to do a better job engaging students and they as well need to take some responsibility for making voting a priority. College is the perfect time for students to not only pursue their studies, but to become good neighbors and citizens. Voting is a critical component of that.”
Some students also feel passionately about low student involvement in elections. According to a study by Tufts University, only 20 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds cast ballots in the 2014 elections. MSU medical student Nathan Hamilton called voting a privilege.
“Our country was founded on the principle of democracy, a luxury that many citizens in nations across the world are not afforded. We owe it to ourselves to exercise our ability to vote and elect politicians who best represent our values and interests,” said Hamilton.
Another MSU student, Kathryn Maass, a senior social relations and policy major, also had strong thoughts about student voting.
“Voting is a direct way to create change. For students specifically, every vote matters. The only way to hold officials accountable and express beliefs about the government is to vote. We are the generation who can make change, especially in governmental affairs but only if students vote,” said Maass.
Young people are the ones who will be living with the consequences of elections.
“I’ve heard younger folks say ‘Only old people vote.’ Well, you’re damned right—and that should bother young people,” said Dowell. “One thing that comes to mind is just that it’s a matter of taking responsibility for your future, but moreover it’s a sense of ownership. You should want to take ownership of your future. If you just let old people do all the voting, don’t be surprised when things don’t wind up the way you’re hoping. What if only 70-year-olds voted? What if only white people voted? What if only Christians voted? The world would be a different shape; America certainly would be.”
Some students are trying to take responsibility. At MSU, students have arranged debate watching parties around campus with friends. Various student organizations have also organized events surrounding educating students on the voting process and giving them the chance to register to vote. The ASMSU Governmental Affairs Department even has an online voter registration website for students to use.
“Student activism in voting is essential, especially if we want to matter,” said junior journalism major Jack Nissen. “We want politicians and those making the decisions to have us in mind when they’re choosing what direction to take the country. So showing our voices through voting will allow our needs to be heard. And it’s always nice to be heard.”
Dowell said, “I’ve seen lots of young people who are really interested in helping others and I’ve seen even more of it in current generations. You know, people working in soup kitchens, but not voting. It’s mind-blowing, because, you know, don’t you wanna make sure there’s soup to serve to people?”
Whether a person is a college student looking to become the next Governor of Michigan or looking to work with local non-profits, or even if the person is a suburban parent of three, voting is important. The deadline for registering to vote in the Michigan primaries is Monday, February 8, 2016. People can register at their city, township or clerk’s office or at a Michigan Secretary of State’s office.
Check your voting status at Michigan.gov/vote.