Michigan Secretary of State visits GV on National Voter Registration Day


GVL \ Meghan Landgren

Lucas Swartzendruber, Editorial Intern

On Sept. 24, the Community Service Learning Center (CSLC) and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson promoted voter registration at the Cook Carillon Tower at Grand Valley State University’s Allendale Campus.

Associate Director of Student Life Melissa Baker-Boosamra described the event as celebratory. She considered it an honor for Benson to visit GVSU on National Voter Registration Day.

“To me, that says she sees that we value student voter engagement and we value student voices,” Baker-Boosamra said.

Baker-Boosamra explained some of GVSU’s work behind promoting student voters. Last May, the university hosted the Michigan Student Voter Engagement Summit, representing 24 campuses across the state. According to the Office of Student Life, the summit contributed to GVSU earning the title of “voter-friendly campus” in 2019.

Benson said students’ votes are their voices. If youth do not make themselves heard, politicians at all levels of government will make decisions without their input. For issues that students care about, changes will not occur unless they vote.

“Young voters are the future of our democracy,” Benson said.

During her visit, Benson attended the voter registration drive for 45 minutes. She said the Allendale Campus is vibrant with student life; Benson recalled enjoying energizing conversations with students already engaged in registering their peers to vote. 

CSLC Civic Engagement Associate Kathryn Carey explained the event relates to her major in political science and minor in international relations. She said students are key voices in how Americans deal with other countries and their own nation.

GVL \ Meghan Landgren

Carey said college students face challenges in registering to vote, as many students move to schools distant from home. Subsequently, those students need to register to vote and apply for absentee ballots. However, Carey noted some students have no interest in voting when faced with a long registration process.

Another challenge many students, especially freshman, face is that they have no cars on campus. Given this circumstance, Carey said they cannot drive to the Secretary of State’s office to register for voting. Nonetheless, she mentioned Benson’s mobile office visits college campuses. This provides students access to voter registration.

“The Secretary of State’s mobile office is here,” said senior William Thayer. “So we can actually do a lot more than registering to vote.”

According to Thayer, the mobile office provides various services to people, including renewing licenses. He said students benefit from the voter registration drive by gaining information; this includes dates for upcoming 2019 and 2020 elections and websites that advise people on how to apply for absentee ballots.

Thayer mentioned he interns for Ottawa County and is a member of Benson’s Collegiate Student Advisory Task Force. He described the voter registration drive as involving “two birds with one stone” because it relates to both roles.

For the internship, Thayer helped the registration process since he explained he wants to represent Ottawa County, which includes GVSU.

Meanwhile, Thayer said the event gave him an opportunity to meet the Secretary of State before the Collegiate Student Advisory Task Force began. He explained the organization’s members come from across Michigan to discuss engaging more students in voting.  

Part of this purpose deals with Proposal 18-3. The amendment passed last year, expanding on voting rights in the Michigan constitution, Thayer said. Among the new provisions are automatic registration and no-reason absentee voting. While Proposal 18-3 benefits college students, Thayer emphasized the task force needs to inform students about these rights.

In experiencing the voter registration drill, Thayer said he learned that people work on the voting process from different levels. From students and clerks to Benson, their participation makes election night possible.

Moving forward, Thayer said he hopes to participate in local and state politics. He also described his hope for Benson’s visit.

“We always want to see more turnout, and college voters are really an untapped group of voters,” Thayer said.