“In the 2014 midterm election, just fourteen percent of the University of Michigan student body voted,” says Edie Goldenberg, a U-M professor of political science and public policy. So last year Goldenberg accepted an invitation from emeritus colleague John Chamberlin to help launch the Big Ten Voting Challenge. They want to double student turnout at all fourteen conference schools.
Goldenberg, a past dean of LS&A, asked president Mark Schlissel to enlist the other schools presidents. “Within a couple of days,” all were on board, says Chamberlin.
The U-M started encouraging students to use turbovote.com to register and get election reminders in 2016, Chamberlin says. About 17,000 have since done soas far as he knows, he says, thats more than any university in the country. But the state doesnt make it easy for those new student voters. Unless they registered in person, he says, it’s “difficult for first-time voters to get an absentee ballot.”
All nineteen of the U-Ms colleges took an ambitious “90% Pledge,” setting a goal of 90 percent participation. As the registration deadline approached, they sent out catchy videos, Facebook posts, and tweets.Football coach Jim Harbaugh, basketball coach John Beilein, and softball coach Carol Hutchins made videos. At a September halftime show, the Michigan Marching Band went into a formation that spelled out “VOTE,” while the announcer quoted everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Maya Angelou and Barack Obama.
An LS&A class that Goldenberg and Chamberlin co-teach with Film, Television, & Media lecturer Oliver Thornton created public service announcements. “The art school is also creating a video called ‘Voting is sexy,'” Chamberlin says. “It’s of a young woman and young man saying, Do you want to do it?” (“It,” of course, turns out to be voting.)
They’re planning an Election Day party on the Diag on November 6, and hope to have buses to drive students to the polls. “We are trying to do everything,” says Chamberlin.
What’s the prize for winning the Big 10 Voting Challenge? “Bragging rights,” Chamberlin says. The school turning out the highest percentage of its student body will be declared the winner, with second place going to the one with the biggest increase.