This summer and fall Campus Vote Project is writing profiles of colleges and universities and their efforts to educate students about voter registration, casting a ballot and developing democratic engagement. These campuses are a part of the Voter Friendly Campus designation project offered by CVP and NASPA.
by Lauren Anderson, CVP intern
The administration at Grand Valley State University in Michigan does its best to ensure every student has their voice heard at election time. The two Grand Valley representatives we spoke with have a passion for student democratic engagement.
The goal for Grand Valley is to register as many students to vote at the polling location corresponding to their campus address as possible. With a few exceptions, first-time voters registered in Michigan cannot use an absentee ballot to cast their votes and must vote in person. Since voting at their Michigan precinct is not always possible for students, their only other option to vote is to cast a ballot using their campus address as their place of residence. With this in mind, Grand Valley has made registration a year-round effort. There is a service learning center at the university staffed with undergraduates whose duties include conducting voter registration drives. Student organizations like the College Republicans and College Democrats also do their part to register students. Officials from the Michigan Secretary of State’s office have come to campus several times with a mobile voting registration lab.
Developing democratic engagement programs and initiatives is another focus of the administration at Grand Valley. To create programs that will appeal to students, Grand Valley informally polls students to see which issues they care about most. In high-traffic student areas, they place sectioned bulletin boards. Each section of the bulletin board is labeled with a current, important national issue. Next to each board are stickers students place in the section of the issue that matters most to them.
In the future, Grand Valley will use these polls to determine which national issue will be the issue of the month. For that month, interactive displays with questions related to the issue will be put in locations around campus with areas designated on the display for student response. Other possible uses for these informal polls include using them to develop programs that will draw high student attendance. Often the best way to find out what students care about is asking them. Students care about the world around them. It’s just a matter of providing them with engaging ways to become informed and be involved. The community at Grand Valley knows this, and has done great work in student democratic engagement.