In the early morning of Nov. 3, human biology senior Devon Hages will stride out of East Lansing High School flaunting her cozy outfit, rainbow printed owl mask and an “I Voted” sticker.
Devon registered to vote about two months ago. She said she feels nervous to vote in person, but doesn’t trust her ballot to go through the mail system in time.
“I was almost 18 when Trump got elected,” Devon said. “Then I just figured, why not wait until the next four-year term to register then because I’m not really gonna be able to make my voice heard until the next election. That’s what I thought at the time.”
Devon isn’t the only one in her family who struggled to see the importance of voting. Her father, Colin registered to vote for the first time recently as a 64-year-old.
“I guess in the past, I’ve always kinda felt like it was a choice between the lesser of two evils,” Colin said. “I really wasn’t that motivated to vote because I didn’t think it would count for much.”
The biggest problem for Devon and her father was the registration process, which is common for many, according to Professor Matt Grossmann from the political science department at MSU.
“In the United States, you have to register before voting, which is always true internationally,” Grossmann said. “And yet (this) has tended historically to present an obstacle to new voters, especially young voters.”
Once Devon received information from the Secretary of State in the mail, she took the next step.
“So I did register,” Devon said. “I was really proud, I sent pictures of my voter registration card to all of my family and they were (happy).”
Devon then urged her dad to register, but he was just as uneducated on the process, especially living in a small town. At the time, he didn’t feel a need to vote.
However, a few months ago, he changed his mind when a close friend mentioned her sister died due to COVID-19. As they continued their discussion, Colin said he became frustrated with the way the President handled the pandemic.
“It was at that point in time that I realized, you know what, I have got to vote just to try to make a change at this point,” Colin said.
Even though he still believes one vote won’t change the course of an election, he said it makes him a better citizen.
“I just couldn’t not register to vote because, whether it’s going to make a difference or not, in my heart and in my mind, at least I’ll know that I did what I could do to try to make a change,” Colin said.
Many new voters who have already worked through the registration process are eager to have their voices heard, like human biology freshman Amer Yassin-Kassab.
“I believe that voting is one of the best ways as just any regular person like myself can impact everything around me in the nation,” Yassin-Kassab said. “There’s so much going on, something so important to do that you can do is to vote. Once you hit that age, you can do it.”
Yassin-Kassab registered to vote by mail. He learned about deadlines from social media posts, which encouraged him to complete his ballot early.
“I’m a huge procrastinator,” Yassin-Kassab said. “Just in general, not only in school. But any responsibility I have to do I always push it so far back until I forget about it. Honestly, I probably would’ve been late to get all the voting things sorted out.”
Grossmann said that the high costs of this election could be influencing the myriad of informational posts.
“More money is being spent on this election than any other previous election by a large margin,” Grossmann said. “That includes more television ads, more mail, more online ads, so it’s not people’s imagination that they are seeing more advertising there.”
That’s why new voters can view more information on how to get registered. For journalism sophomore Carson Hathaway, seeing current events unfold shaped his interest in registration.
“I think there’s been more conversation this time because people have gotten tired of those issues,” Hathaway said. “There’s more urgency because of that — because racial issues that have been going on in this country are long overdue that need to be addressed.”
Hathaway thinks voting is the best way to get involved with these social justice issues.
“You can go to all of these rallies, say ‘Black Lives Matter’ but none of that will do anything if the wrong person gets elected,” Hathaway said. “Going out and voting, that’s something that will actually make a difference in the long run.”
Yassin-Kassab said filling out a ballot is an indirect, effective way to stand up for beliefs.
“Voting is a huge way you can do that so easily,” Yassin-Kassab said. “Checking a few boxes and voting for the people who have the same views as you, opinions and things you want to get done, carried out by someone else that you can vote for ... It’s a way to be active without really stepping out of your comfort zone.”
Kinesiology senior Riya Bhutani is a new voter as well. She said she feels strongly about current events like COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests.
“I think a lot of what has happened could’ve been handled differently and maybe could’ve been handled better,” Bhutani said. “So if we vote, we could change that.”
She also said she holds voting to a high standard because of her personal upbringing.
“A lot of (American) Indians are considered a model minority because we come here on work visas, we have high qualifications, we get high positions in whatever company,” Bhutani said. “But there are still those microaggressions that we face. Bringing awareness to those really is important and I think that’s how I was raised, to fight to be heard.”
The registration process is the first step for citizens to become voters and share their political opinions. After that, voters like Devon might encourage others to do the same.
“It’s worth jumping through a few extra hoops,” Devon said. “It’s worth figuring out how to do it on your computer if you’re older because your voice does matter. You can either sit back and watch it all crumble or you can help try to put it back together again.”
This article is part of our Election 2020 print edition. View the full issue here.
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