Lt. Gov. Gilchrist to join WeVote in final push to encourage student civic engagement

Contact: Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A week ahead of Election Day, WeVote is making one last push to get Western Michigan University students equipped and excited to vote. The nonpartisan group, which focuses on encouraging civic engagement on campus, will be joined by Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist for a panel discussion among student leaders.

The virtual event, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 27, will encourage students to make their voices heard by voting. The lieutenant governor will kick things off with an introduction, followed by a discussion among students in various groups on campus about why they’re voting and what questions they’ve heard from their peers about the process. Dr. Denise Keele, professor of political science and member of the WeVote executive committee, will moderate the panel.

A student inserts her ballot in a lockbox.

A student votes in the satellite clerk's office in the Bernhard Center.

"It's one final chance to rally together, have a conversation, get people excited and make sure that all of our students have the resources they need and an Election Day plan," says Alex Lawrence, a junior studying political science who has been involved with WeVote since his freshman year. "There's just a feeling that our voices don't matter, the young vote doesn't matter, but that's not true. Elections are won so narrowly that literal coin tosses are used sometimes to determine the winner. So students should know that their vote can really make a difference."

Only about one-third of eligible WMU students voted in the 2018 midterm elections. That's on par with national voting trends, which show young adults historically have not been as involved in elections as older Americans. Lawrence believes a lack of education about the process and a disconnect from the personal impact of voting contribute to the disengagement. Some students, he says, feel too removed from the policies they're voting on.

"When I'm talking to students about why they should vote, I emphasize that it does affect us," Lawrence says, pointing out that business students could someday be business owners impacted by policies, education students will be teachers who feel the effects of education funding decisions, and so on. Policies surrounding the economy could also determine what the job market is like after graduation. "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter who you vote for or what issues you vote for, as long as you're voting and making sure your voice is heard. That's enough to keep our democracy going. If we don't have people turn out and vote, is that really a true democracy?"

The goal of WeVote is to provide resources to students to help navigate civic engagement and help them become lifelong voters. Throughout the year, the group has held a number of events to inform students about candidates and policies and encourage critical discussion about issues. The mission has also become a passion for Lawrence, which he discovered after coming to WMU.

"After working with WeVote the last couple of years, I really want to focus my time and my passion on helping other college students and just young adults register to vote and help them get civically engaged. I think we're seeing in our country right now a lack of people being engaged. And that starts in middle school and high school and going on through college. If we can start that process early, talking with students about this, I think we'll have more engaged young citizens of the country, and hopefully that will lead to better representation of that generation in office."

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3. Students can find more information about registering and voting—whether in-person or absentee—on the WeVote website. The city of Kalamazoo has also established a satellite clerk's office on the first floor of the Bernhard Center where city residents can register to vote and cast their ballot in person now through 8 p.m. on Election Day. Students who live off-campus will need to bring proof of residency to register to vote in Kalamazoo and can check requirements in advance on the Michigan Secretary of State website. WeVote is encouraging students register and vote early to avoid potentially long lines on Nov. 3.

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