A few weeks from now, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, the people of our nation will be asked to make some very important decisions. We will elect the 45th President of the United States, along with Congressional and state representatives, and voters in many communities will choose local officials and decide ballot issues.
I urge everyone in the University of Michigan community to get registered and vote if you are eligible.
I view participation in the electoral process as one of our most important responsibilities. U-M was itself founded under the principles of democracy nearly 200 years ago, established as a university that would serve society and be governed by the people.
Yet for many groups of American citizens, the right to vote is much newer – and more hard-fought.
Many of the U-M students who first came to our campus 45 years ago would not have been eligible to vote. At the time, the voting age was 21.
That changed in 1971, with the ratification of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18. Before that, the 24th Amendment in 1964 eliminated the poll tax, which had in effect prevented low-income people from voting. The 19th Amendment in 1920 gave the right to vote to women. The 15th Amendment in 1870 made it illegal to deny voting rights based on race, color or previous servitude.
But it wasn’t until the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the U.S. enacted protections needed to enforce the 15th Amendment and further reduce discrimination at the polls.
This Nov. 16, the Ford School of Public Policy is hosting a celebration of 50 years of Civil Rights leadership in America.
The featured event is a keynote address by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who took part in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama. These marches were pivotal moments in American history, and they contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
We should all take note that the Voting Rights Act’s protections remain contentious to this day. Many states have imposed or seek stronger identification requirements and other measures that would restrict voting, following a 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down a critical part of the 1965 act.
The mechanisms for choosing our nation’s president has changed as well – along with the people’s role in the process. Early in our nation’s history, most states chose electors for the Electoral College through their own State Legislatures – not by direct vote of the people. The current system of direct popular vote in each state wasn’t adopted nationwide until after the Civil War.
Today, 48 of our states have a winner-take-all system for electors based on the popular vote. Maine and Nebraska’s electors follow voting in their Congressional districts, and their remaining two are statewide.
We must not forget that the ability of our citizens – of all citizens – to elect our president has evolved over time. For many, it simply didn’t exist.
Over the decades and generations, many U.S. citizens had to fight for the right to vote.
They assembled in protest, marched on our streets and sued in the courts, — and too often, they died at the hands of those who would deny their rights.
These sacrifices are an important reminder that our ability to vote is precious.
The deadline to register to vote in Michigan is 5 p.m. on Oct. 11. That’s Tuesday.
The Michigan Secretary of State will have its mobile branch office on campus near the Michigan Union on Kennedy Drive on Oct. 11 and will be open for business from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Information on Michigan voter registration is available at the Michigan Secretary of State website. The Michigan voter registration application is available online. If you are voting out-of-state, information is available from the U.S Election Assistance Commission.
Other voter registration, education, and engagement resources can be found at the University of Michigan’s Ginsberg Center’s Democratic Engagement webpage.
The Ginsberg Center is partnering with TurboVote, a quick, customizable tool accessible to all U-M faculty, staff, and students. TurboVote can help you register to vote either here in Ann Arbor or nationwide by using your permanent address.
If you plan to vote in the City of Ann Arbor, you can also register to vote in person until the deadline on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the office of the Ann Arbor City Clerk, Second Floor, Ann Arbor City Hall, 301 East Huron Street.
To be eligible to register in Michigan, you must be all of the following: a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old by Election Day, a resident of Michigan, and a resident of the city or township where you are applying to register to vote. Make sure you bring proof of residency in the form of a Michigan driver’s license or a Michigan personal identification card when you go to register.
I especially want to encourage our students to get registered and to vote.
As I mentioned in my remarks at New Student Convocation, history suggests that most people in the age group that many of our students represent won’t vote.
The Pew Research Center reported that in 2012, nationwide voter turnout for 18- to 24-year olds was just over 41 percent. That was down more than 7 percentage points from 2008, and it was the lowest turnout amongst all age groups.
The Pew report noted that the data were counter to the belief that a “youth movement” was taking hold in our electorate.
Our mission at the U-M is to develop “leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.” Voting assures you the opportunity to do both.
Decisions are made by those who show up.
I hope everyone in the U-M community votes on Nov. 8.