Students to advise state on voting access

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Five Michigan State University students have been selected to serve on a task force that will advise Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on how to increase student voter turnout.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in the Anderson House Office Building

Andrew Roth

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in the lobby of the Anderson House Office Building on April 9, 2019.

Carter Oselett, a junior studying social relations and policy, says he first heard the idea for the task force while attending an election night party in Detroit with Benson, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and others.

“I saw Jocelyn Benson and I told her about my day, and it was Election Day, so I told her about students who had problems voting,” Oselett said. “She told me …  ‘We’re going to fix this. We’re going to get a bunch of college students around the table and see what we can do to fix this.’ A couple months later, she’s literally doing it.”

Among the problems Oselett hopes to alleviate through the task force is making sure students know they must update their voter registration every time they move.

“Students aren’t always aware that they have to update their voter registration every time they do move,” Oselett said. “A lot of it is educational, but some of it is systematic.”

Solutions he recommends include working with universities to expand outreach programs and bringing a mobile secretary of state office to campuses to register voters.

The task force, which so far has met once, represents a variety of viewpoints and majors.

“It’s nice to see there’s nursing students in there, there’s accounting students, so it’s really a big perspective of different voices,” Oselett said. “Everyone has stories to contribute and ideas to contribute, so it’s a really good thing.”

Adam Green, a senior studying political theory and constitutional democracy, is a former president of the James Madison College Conservatives and now works for Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield (R-Levering).

Despite being a conservative, Green said he doesn’t have any qualms about working with the Democratic secretary of state.

“I’m very excited to partner up with her and students across the state in a bipartisan way,” Green said. “I think that’s one of the greatest strengths our society can use, but often doesn’t use, is that bipartisan task force of ideas crossing the aisle that ultimately can bring out some hopefully long lasting change.”

“She’s fantastic. She was one of the Democrats in the 2018 elections that I was most excited about seeing on the ballot. I thought she was pretty dedicated to, just, the role of being secretary of state. She wrote a book on being secretary of state, you know, it didn’t seem like a partisan gig for her.”

Green said that with the polarized political system in place now, problems are rarely solved permanently; rather, each party undoes what the other party did when the balance of power shifts. By bringing everyone to the table, Green said, the task force is poised to come up with lasting  solutions.

“If we’re doing bipartisan work, and we’re leading bipartisan groups like this, we’re having these discussions in a bipartisan manner, making sure that everybody’s represented, we can have a lot more productive solutions to these problems and hopefully more long lasting solutions,” Green said.

Green said one of the biggest reasons for low student voter turnout is lack of enthusiasm.

“I think one of the main points that I brought up is that, you know, we needed a reason, we need people to have a reason to go to the polls in the first place,” Green said. “My idea, as it always has been, is to get people connected with how exactly is your representative, the people that you’re electing, how they’re affecting you in your daily life. I think once people understand that they are, in fact, greatly affected by the actions of their representatives or the proposals on a ballot then they start to have an understanding and a desire to go vote.”

Task force members will meet three times before making their recommendations to Benson in late November.

Once the recommendations have been made, the task force’s members will serve as “civic engagement liaisons” to each of Michigan’s more than 20 campuses. 

Green said serving as a civic engagement liaison means they will be ”the bridge between the Department of State and each college campus around the state.”

“I think the long-term goal is to be listening to other people on campus about past experiences voting and not only doing our work on the task force but taking that back to campus, listening to stories, and bring it back to the secretary,” Oselett said.

Three other Michigan State students – Talyce Murray, Maysa Sitar and Kyle Vickery – are also on the task force, which has33 students total.

“I am proud of the many men and women across the state who have stepped up to lead and inform our office on how to best engage students in our democracy,” Benson said in a statement. “I am confident with their insights and involvement we will develop a robust plan to break down existing barriers and ensure our elections are accessible to all.”

Both Oselett and Green praised Benson for creating the task force.

“College students and our ability to vote and our access to vote isn’t always prioritized, and especially hasn’t been prioritized in Michigan in the past couple years and decades,” Oselett said. “So it’s good to see a secretary who not only wants to improve the problem but will bring in people directly affected by voting in college to help her do it.”

Campuses with representatives include Michigan State University, Central Michigan University, Wayne State University, Oakland University, Oakland Community College, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint, Lansing Community College, Henry Ford College, Schoolcraft College, Grand Rapids Community College, Michigan Technological University, Washtenaw Community College, Saginaw Valley State University, Kalamazoo College, Northern Michigan University, Ferris State University, Kettering University, Lake Superior State University and Macomb Community College.

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