College students from around the state gathered at the Kellogg Center at Michigan State University on Friday for the fifth annual Michigan Student Voting Summit, where they attended seminars and workshops all geared towards maximizing voter turnout amongst young people.
The summit featured several speakers, including Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Students participated in activities with subjects ranging from combating misinformation on social media about elections to networking and organization fair.
Benson said that she was excited to see so many faces in the audience representing different college campuses. She created a Collegiate Student Advisory Task Force in 2019, hoping to engage young voters.
“We could never have envisioned the way our college campuses and our democracy would be shaken in the years ahead,” Benson said. “I remember when we convened that first group in our office here in Lansing, our conversation was about how to implement the new voter-driven changes that were enacted by voters in 2018.”
Now, Benson and organizations like the Campus Vote Project have a different goal – turning out as many students as possible for the midterm elections on Nov. 8.
With 39 days until the polls open, student-focused voting advocacy groups have their work cut out for them.
College students are a historically difficult demographic to turn out in midterm elections. Many students who live away from home aren’t able to travel back to vote in person, and there’s no shortage of confusion and misinformation surrounding absentee ballots.
Deputy state coordinator for Michigan’s wing of the Campus Vote Project Sithara Menon said that the easiest way to ensure youth turnout is to increase voter registration.
“As we are getting closer and closer, it is more and more urgent that people register to vote,” Menon said. “There are steps after that to take to actually cast your ballot. But the very first thing that everyone needs to do is to register to vote.”
Some of the activities the summit included offered tools for campus voting groups to further mobilize in the lead-up to the election. Panelists from different organizing backgrounds spoke about coalition-building methods and ways to open up a dialogue about contentious issues.
Member of Benson’s task force Katie Ellison said that she’s able to apply skills she’s learned working in nonpartisan gun safety advocacy in encouraging people to vote. She said that she’s seen firsthand the feelings of burnout that many young people have about politics, but also knows that it’s important to overcome those sentiments in order to be civically responsible.
“The decisions being made now will affect you for the rest of your life,” Ellison said. “A lot of things like civil rights, voting rights, these are fundamental things that will affect you for a very long time and in a lot of different ways at the state and local level. So, you might not feel it now, but I promise you will feel the impacts of this election one day.”
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