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Sophie Greenberg (BA ‘23) increases voter turnout and knowledge with Turn Up Turnout

March 3, 2022

Turn Up Turnout is a student-led, nonpartisan organization that increases voter registration and turnout for college students. Created by Edie Goldenberg, professor emerita of public policy and political science, Turn Up Turnout works to educate students on voter registration and rules, inform them about candidates and issues, and stress the importance of voting. President of Turn Up Turnout Sophie Greenberg (BA' 23) has been influential in the organization's endeavors. 

“Sophie has been active around student voting issues since she arrived at UM. She joined Turn Up Turnout (TUT) during her first year, became the vice president for voter education in her second year, and was the unanimous choice for TUT president in her third year,” Goldenberg said. “Sophie has strong leadership skills and has been extremely effective in inspiring others. She's a real team player. I've felt very fortunate to work with all of the TUT leaders. They're a truly dedicated, creative, and inspired group of students.”

We spoke with Greenberg, who grew up in Ann Arbor, about Turn Up Turnout and voting.

Q: How did you get involved with Turn Up Turnout?

SG: My first semester freshman year, I signed up for a first-year seminar called "Student Voting" with Edie Goldenberg. It was about student voting, and the degree of voter apathy and the low voter engagement that young people have struck me because, a lot of the time, the rhetoric around young people is that they're the generation that's going to save the world in many ways. But that's not the case when it comes to going to the polls. Edie advertised the organization in class, so I started going to the meetings a few weeks in. The rest is history. 

Turn Up Turnout has been the one organization that I've dedicated myself to, and the thing that I enjoy about it is its complete nonpartisan nature. As public policy students, all of us have strong opinions. It's nice to take off that hat and not worry about making my partisan opinion heard. I can just help students understand the voting process, no matter their political affiliation. The biggest challenge is voter apathy. A lot of people say, "Oh, I don't vote. It doesn't matter." It was jarring the first time I heard that, but you can understand where that sentiment comes from. Especially for presidential elections, it just feels like a drop in a big ocean that doesn't make a difference. So, we created Dinners for Democracy. 

Q: What are Dinners for Democracy?

SG: Our mission is to take people's interests on specific policy issues, give people information about the topic, and then discuss their vote, emphasizing local elections. Our idea is to connect people's passion for issues to voting. Because even if you don't think that voting matters, you're most likely still passionate about gun control, immigration, health care, or some policy issue. We try to bridge that gap. For example, if you're passionate about abolishing the death penalty or maintaining the death penalty, you might not think that voting for president is going to do anything about that. So, we go all the way down the ballot: "Do you know what a county commissioner is? This is what they do. This is how they could influence the death penalty in your county." 

Those policy changes are happening at the state and local level, where people aren't as educated. So, we want to make people feel like they can make a difference. It's so great to see when it clicks for people, and they say, "Oh, I should vote for state representative if I want PFAS out of my water." So, we want to bridge the gap between policy issues and voting, make people emphasize local elections, and understand their ballot a bit more. 

Q: How do you ensure nonpartisanship?

SG: A lot of organizations claim to be nonpartisan but lean to one side, and that's not the case here. We're not even bipartisan. The way we do it is we just don't ask people about their politics. We ask them how we can help them learn about voter registration, absentee ballots, and the voting process in general. 

With Dinners for Democracy, we are talking about contentious issues. If we can't talk about it in a nonpartisan way, that's where we go to bipartisanship. For example, we had a dinner on women's health which talks about abortion, so we just make sure that it's clear that there are two sides to the issue. We keep both sides in mind so that with conversations, people feel safe knowing that they're not just being presented with one side of the situation or the information. 

Q: Who can get involved in Dinners for Democracy?

SG: When we first started, I assumed it would just be Political Science and Public Policy students, but that hasn't been the case whatsoever. We have attendees from almost every school and college, including students and faculty from engineering, different LSA fields, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and architecture. We also have a pretty big international student population that comes to these, so there are people that can't vote in the United States, but are still passionate about getting involved. 

Choosing the topics is completely student-led. It's usually just people's passion project, which makes the dinners special since you're seeing these people care about really niche issues. It's great that people can craft their own dinners. If they just reach out to me or the Steering Team, we have the resources. We have a guide on how to make it. We help connect students with faculty. Anyone can create their own dinner. 

Q: What should students know about the 2022 midterm elections?

SG: Although presidential election years are often seen as the most important, there are so many city, county, and state elections happening in 2022 which will help decide local issues that are important to voters. For example, the recent increase in opposition to teaching critical race theory will ultimately be decided at the ballots for many school districts in 2022. Additionally, on the federal level, the 2022 midterm election will change the makeup of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, an important thing to keep an eye on for understanding how successful the president's agenda will be in the second half of his term. TUT has worked with campus partners to establish the presence of two satellite clerk offices on campus—one that will be housed in UMMA (just as it was in 2020), and one that will be housed in the Duderstadt. These satellite offices will be one-stop shops where students can ask questions about voting, request absentee ballots, and even vote. 

Additionally, we are going to ramp up our registration efforts and have tables around campus where students can stop by to get help with registration. We will also be continuing our Dinners for Democracy so students can continue to learn about how the issues they are passionate about are connected to their vote on every level of the ballot. As reported by Tuft's NSLVE report, the University of Michigan student voting rate in 2020 was 78.1%, up from 66% in 2016. Midterm election years tend to have lower turnout, and in 2018 the U-M student voting rate was 47.2%. While we do not have a specific numeric goal for turnout rates for 2022 and 2024 we hope to continue to see consistent increases in turnout each election cycle, getting as close to 100% of eligible students voting as we possibly can.

To get in touch with Turn Up Turnout, you can email [email protected] or Sophie at [email protected]. You can also sign up for a Dinners for Democracy event.