GV aims to increase student voter registration, turnout ahead of upcoming midterm elections


Camryn Snider, Staff Writer

Nov. 8 is Election Day in the United States. This year, voters will head to the polls to cast their ballots in the 2022 midterm elections.

At Grand Valley State University leaders and voting advocates are gearing up to register and get student voters to the polls amidst the typically low turnout observed in a midterm election cycle.

Previously, GVSU President Philomena Mantella has committed to increasing student engagement by signing the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge’s Presidents’ Commitment in 2020 along with 500 other college and university presidents. This pledge commits the university to strive for 100% voting registration among students.

According to the 2020 National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement Campus Report released by Tufts University, GVSU is making noticeable progress to do so, with 91% of GVSU students registered to vote in 2020 and 72% voting.

However, midterm elections like this year’s have a reputation for turning out fewer youth voters than in presidential elections.

In the 2018 midterms, 73% of GVSU students were registered to vote, yet 35% voted.

GVSU’s Associate Director of Student Life for Civic Engagement and Assessment Melissa Baker-Boosamra said the difference in student voter turnout between presidential and midterm elections is a major concern to her.

“At the midterm elections, we are electing representatives at the level of the state, at the level of the county and even city commission and school board,” Baker-Boosamra said. “These are the people that are our neighbors, who are representing us relevant to issues that matter right in our very own backyards and communities, so I think it’s absolutely important that we’re paying attention to the local, state and national elections.”

Autumn Mueller, a senior at GVSU and democracy fellow with the Campus Vote Project is currently involved in GVSU’s democratic engagement program GVSU Votes!. Mueller said she strongly believes in the power voting holds to make one’s voice heard.

“I think it’s really worrisome if students do not get out and vote because then they are passively letting other people make their decisions and no one should be okay with that,” Mueller said.

Mueller is also the president of Rise, a registered student organization that she said, “promotes civic engagement and works to help student needs when election time rolls around.”

Last year Mueller was the president of the university’s Student Senate, where she said she also worked on projects focused on civic engagement and voter education, in part to better represent first-generation students like herself.

“Every student should be voting because it is the way our democracy will continue to function,” Mueller said. “Voting is our voice and how students can be involved in change.”

From Oct. 24 to Election Day, an Allendale township satellite clerk’s office will be open in the Kirkhof Center lobby on GVSU’s campus, where student residents of Allendale can register and vote by absentee ballot.

“We’re trying to remove barriers from students so that they can exercise their right to vote there,” Baker-Boosamra said. “We’re also in the process of partnering with a number of student organizations to host voter registration and information drives throughout the month of October.”

GVSU’s Office of Student Life is also hosting Democracy 101: A Series of Critical Conversations, which includes lectures, panel discussions and workshops.

“We’ve pulled together topics that we think are really going to be helpful to prepare students to understand what’s on the ballot, how to vote and then also after the election to have space to process the results,” Baker-Boosamra said.

Baker-Boosamra said that an important aspect of GVSU Votes is that the program is nonpartisan and does not support candidates or ballot initiatives.

“We are strictly here to make sure that students have accurate and trusted information about how to register, how to exercise your right to vote and how to get good information to make your own decisions about the positions that you’ll take on public issues,” Baker-Boosamra said. “We want students across the political spectrum to be coming together. We believe that the university is a marketplace of ideas. This is the place that students come to learn to think critically, to ask difficult questions.”

Baker-Boosamra said the importance of voting must always be remembered as it serves to honor the many people that have fought, and continue to fight, for the right to do so.

“I think it’s both a privilege and also a responsibility that we take that right and exercise it with gratitude to those who fought and died so we could do so,” Baker-Boosamra said.