Logan Woods, PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, is a guest contributor for the RAISE the Vote Campaign. The views expressed in the posts and articles featured in the RAISE the Vote campaign are those of the authors and contributors alone and do not represent the views of APSA.
The presidential primary election in Michigan is on March 10, and a non-partisan campus-wide effort is underway to ensure that students at the University of Michigan are registered to vote if they are eligible and interested in doing so. In Washtenaw County, home to the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus and many of its students, there are presidential primary elections for both the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as several ballot proposals concerning local public school funding (the primary election for other offices is in August). Voters in Michigan do not need to register with a political party to vote in a primary election, but they must decide the party for which to vote in the presidential primary election. Due in part to how competitive Michigan is expected to be in the presidential election, we are preparing for high turnout in the 2020 primary and general elections, as electoral closeness is positively associated with turnout.[i] The University of Michigan participates in the nonpartisan Big Ten Voting Challenge, and all institutions in the Big Ten Conference have committed to using evidence-based strategies to increase voter registration and turnout. As part of the University of Michigan’s commitment to civic engagement, student groups, faculty and staff are ensuring that eligible students have the necessary information and support to register and vote successfully.
Registering to vote can be an administrative burden, and many students may not even know how to begin the process. By providing students paper registration forms or links to online voter registration portals for their state, we help students with that first step in the process. When students fill out paper forms, we also can help them check the form for common errors such as forgetting to date the signature. Correctly filling out a voter registration form is a critical step in the registration process.[ii] To help make sure students have the necessary information, the Edward Ginsberg Center created a website containing answers to questions that Michigan students frequently ask about the registration process.
By providing students paper registration forms or links to online voter registration portals for their state, we help students with that first step in the process.
A major hurdle to registering and voting that students face is that they move frequently—often every year. Moving frequently, particularly shortly before an election, can reduce turnout—but there are steps that both election administrators and educators can take to reduce this burden.[iii] In particular, students may mistakenly believe that they are currently registered to vote, or registered to vote at a particular address. Most states provide an online tool for people to check their voter registration status and voting location, if applicable. This information is critical for students registering and voting.[iv] Re-registering to vote after moving is a substantial administrative burden, even when the move is within the same community.[v] This is especially important for University of Michigan students, as many will move between the primary and general elections.
Similarly, students are able to choose whether they register at their permanent address, or at their student address. Student volunteers with Turn Up Turnout, a student group on campus, receive training on the registration and voting requirements for Michigan and other states—which is especially important as nearly half of the undergraduate population is made up of out-of-state students. In Michigan, like many other states, students with an in-state ID such as a driver’s license can register to vote online—but if a student does not have a Michigan driver’s license or personal ID, they must register by paper.
In addition, many students do not know that they must go to the local clerk’s office to register to vote on Election Day in Michigan–they may originally be from states that allow registration at polling places, or do not have Election Day registration in any form.
The University of Michigan’s Spring Break ends on March 9, a day before the presidential primary in that state. As such, we are taking active steps to ensure that students have prepared to vote in the primary, if they choose to do so. Providing information about the absentee voting process in Michigan is critical, as some students may not have returned from Spring Break by Election Day, but will still want to vote. In Michigan, any person can vote with an absentee ballot if they wish, but absentee ballots must be received by the appropriate local clerk by Election Day. In addition, many students do not know that they must go to the local clerk’s office to register to vote on Election Day in Michigan–they may originally be from states that allow registration at polling places, or do not have Election Day registration in any form. Indeed, same-day voter registration can be especially critical for younger voters turning out to vote, particularly in presidential elections.[vi] Frequent communication with the Ann Arbor City Clerk has been key in preparing for students who want to register on Election Day, and for other aspects of student registration and voting.
With the support of faculty and administration across campus—in all 19 schools and colleges at the Ann Arbor campus—we are visiting classrooms to present information about how to register to vote. These classroom presentations can have a positive effect on voter registration and turnout among students, as opposed to mass emails encouraging students to register to vote which are less effective.[vii] In addition, some classes have had assignments centered around encouraging student registration and voting—from projects that encourage students to come up with strategies for increasing registration and turnout to more directed assignments such as creating marketing materials for use on campus to promote registration and voting. By implementing these and other strategies, we hope that every University of Michigan student who is eligible and interested in doing so is able to register and vote in the presidential primary election and other upcoming elections.
Logan T. Woods is a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Michigan. He studies American politics, including political behavior, election administration, political parties, and political psychology. His dissertation examines the down-ballot consequences–for voters, candidates, and parties–of elections in which candidates run unopposed. He has a BA in history and an MA in political science from the University of Illinois Springfield.
[i] Blais, André. 2006. “What Affects Voter Turnout?” Annual Review of Political Science 9: pp. 111-125.
[ii] Merivaki, Thessalia. 2019. “Access Denied? Investigating Voter Registration Rejections in Florida.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly 19(1): pp. 53-82.
[iii] Kim, Seo-young Silvia. 2019. “Getting Settled in Your New Home: The Costs of Moving on Voter Turnout.” Mimeo, California Institute of Technology, August.
[iv] King, Bridgett A. 2019. “State online voting and registration lookup tools: Participation, confidence, and ballot disposition.” Journal of Information Technology & Politics 16(3): pp. 219-235.
[v] Highton, Benjamin. 2000. “Residential Mobility, Community Mobility, and Electoral Participation.” Political Behavior 22(2): pp. 109-122.
[vi] Grumbach, Jacob M. and Charlotte Hill. 2019. “Rock the Registration: Same Day Registration Increases Turnout of Young Voters.” Working paper.
[vii] Bennion, Elizabeth A. and David W. Nickerson. 2016. “I Will Register and Vote, If You Teach Me How: A Field Experiment Testing Voter Registration in College Classrooms.” PS: Political Science & Politics 49(SI: 4): pp. 867-871. Bennion, Elizabeth A. and David W. Nickerson. 2019. “What We Know about Mobilizing College Students to Vote.” Working paper.