West Michigan colleges push to increase voter participation among students

West Michigan colleges make a push to increase voter participation among students. (WWMT/File)

College campuses across the country were trying to get more students to exercise their right to vote in the Nov. 3, 2020 presidential election.

They were participating in the All In Campus Democracy Challenge, an initiative to help colleges and universities make sure their students were educated about the election and knew how to make their voices heard.

“The job of higher education is to teach folks how to be part of this democracy and be engaged in civic affairs," Western Michigan University We Vote faculty co-chair Denise Keele said.

Historically, young people have voted at lower rates than older adults, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For the 2016 presidential election, 46% of 18 to 29-year-olds voted, the lowest of any age group by more than 10%. In 2020, Millennials and Gen Z made up the largest share of eligible voters.

School leaders said some students faced challenges when it came to voting. They might be new to democracy, move around frequently, might not have a driver’s license and might be less likely to be contacted by a political campaign.

In West Michigan, Albion College, Hope College, Kalamazoo College, Grand Valley State University and Western Michigan University were all taking part in the challenge.

Keele said she was encouraging WMU students to register and vote early in the November presidential election.

"You can do that all online, request your absentee ballot online and then of course get that mailed to you," she said. "Then you have choices if you mail that back, put it in a drop box or take it straight to your clerk’s office.”

Keele said Western Michigan University was using a text and email service to send reminders to students about registration and voting deadlines.

“You cannot over-communicate what folks need to do in order to have their voices heard in the electoral process," Keele said.

In 2014, Keele said less than 20% of WMU students voted in the election. Now, around 30% of students actively vote. She said she wanted at least 50% of students, if not more, to cast their vote in the 2020 presidential election.

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