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The Last Word: Edie Goldenberg wants students to register and vote

May 22, 2020

Goldenberg's “Turn Up Turnout” efforts have spread from the Ann Arbor campus to Dearborn and Flint, to all Big 10 schools through the Big Ten Voting Challenge, and to 25 other institutions in the state through the annual Michigan Student Voting Summit. The result was a nearly three-fold increase in U-M voter participation in the 2018 midterms--to 41 percent. Edie Goldenberg, Ford School professor of political science and public policy, talks to State & Hill about her efforts.

State & Hill: What is Turn Up Turnout?

Goldenberg: This is a student-run, faculty-and staff-facilitated effort to increase campus voter participation. After the 2016 elections, I saw the disappointment some students felt about the results, and I realized that we weren’t doing a very good job at teaching civics. And then I learned that in the 2014 midterm elections student participation was only 14 percent, so I felt a responsibility to act, especially as a political scientist.

We need more than the students to drive Get Out The Vote efforts. Our current campus efforts involve the provost, deans, faculty, staff, and the offices of government relations and student affairs. We want to embed voter registration in all of the University’s processes. For it to be effective, our outreach has to adapt itself to the culture of each campus, school, and department.

Why are these efforts so important?

Goldenberg: There is a big gap in civics education for young voters. Most new voters are in college. Many have questions about registration, do not know how to find information about the ballot issues and candidates, or are confused about where to vote or how absentee ballots work. Our efforts help fill these information gaps so young voters can confidently cast their votes.

How did you involve all of the Big 10 schools in the Voting Challenge?

Goldenberg: By March 2017, when I saw the interest on the U-M campus, I asked President Schlissel about starting the Big 10 Voting Challenge, which seemed like a good vehicle to promote better voting habits. Within 48 Michigan Stadiumhours, all the other schools in the conference had signed on! Though the schools were seeing students organize and protest, the voter participation numbers were low, just like what we had at U-M. Expanding the challenge allows institutions--in the Big10 and across Michigan--to share best practices. We held the first Michigan Student Voting summit in 2018 and in 2019, 25 schools participated. We are expecting even more at the May 2020 event.

What are your predictions for 2020 participation?

Goldenberg: I expect turnout to be higher everywhere. That’s partly from our efforts and partly just that this is a high-interest election. Our 2016 participation was mid-40’s. I would aspire to 75 percent, but realistically, I feel we can achieve 65 percent. That would be encouraging to me, it would be good for U-M, good for Michigan, good for the country, and especially good for the students themselves.

Below is a formatted version of this article from State & Hill, the magazine of the Ford School. View the entire Spring 2020 State & Hill.