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#OTGYpsi: Eastern Michigan University students spread the word on new voting laws and Michigan's upcoming primary elections

Decky Alexander, Lamarr Mitchell, Maggie Whittemore, and Meagan Raupp at the Engage @ EMU offices.
Doug Coombe
Concentrate Media
Decky Alexander, Lamarr Mitchell, Maggie Whittemore, and Meagan Raupp at the Engage @ EMU offices.


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Rylee Barnsdale's Feature Article: EMU students work to ensure peers know their voting rights in advance of 2024 elections

Governor Whitmer Signs Historic Election Bills Package to Ensure Every Vote Can be Cast and Counted

Engage @ EMU

Michigan Collegiate Student Advisory Task Force (CSATF)

Campus Vote Project


Rylee Barnsdale: You are listening to 89 one WEMU. It is another election year, and if the past few election cycles are any indication, Michigan should see some of the biggest turnouts of youth voters at the polls come November. Even more so, Michigan now has new laws and legislation in effect to directly impact all voters in a positive way, whether it's through ensuring every vote casted is counted or making voting more accessible. Eastern Michigan University is hoping to keep the trends of young and first-time voters high, not only by educating students on the voting process and getting them registered to vote, but also by promoting just how important it is to have your voice be heard. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. Today, to discuss ongoing efforts to increase student voting at EMU, is third-year EMU political law student Naomi Barbour. Hi, Naomi. How's it going?

Naomi Barbour: I'm good. How are you doing, Rylee?

Rylee Barnsdale: I am not too bad. Happy to have you here. I'd love to start our conversation with just a couple of numbers. How does Michigan stack up against other states when it comes to the youth vote?

Naomi Barbour: It's actually really exciting. And that really is what, hopefully, will inspire students to participate in this upcoming election. So, actually, Michigan had the highest increase in young voters, aged 18 to 24, registering to vote in 2022 compared to 2018. And so, this was just a massive explosion in voter registration. And we're continuing to see student participation in Michigan's elections continue to increase. And, therefore, it's obvious that the needs of this significant voting bloc have to be taken into consideration when we're involving relating and elections, especially as these new policies are advancing within the state.

Rylee Barnsdale: So, is it looking like, in Ypsi, we might see more youth voters, maybe more of the same from previous years? What is the sort of consensus looking like right now?

Naomi Barbour: We're definitely expecting an increase. This is based off of 2022 NSolve data, and we're using this to based off of how we're targeting groups, targeting underrepresented groups, trying to bridge the gap between gender voting and the field of study gap and really targeting these specific. Underrepresented groups on campus. We really think that that's going to garner an increase in voting.

Rylee Barnsdale: And I'm sure that this new package of bills signed into effect by Governor Whitmer recently will also be an impact on those numbers and things like protecting voting officials and expanding voter registration will help everybody. But do you think there's any part of that package that will possibly directly impact students' ability to vote?

Naomi Barbour: Oh, yes. No. That act was passed. I was actually a sitting member of the Collegiate Student Advisory Task Force, and I was a liaison for Eastern Michigan University. And throughout that task force, we had worked with the Secretary of State's office. And we worked really closely with universities all across the state. And we had really advocated for student rights, student voting, how we were able to, especially after the passage of, I believe it was Prop two, and we were able to fully expand, our election laws. And more particularly, there were, of course, multiple things that we were advocating for on this task force, and we were advocating for the requiring of on-campus early voting. And we saw that was added in with our nine days of early voting. We're advocating for offering voter registration at community early voting sites. And this was something that we wanted to expand not only at Eastern's campus, but across the state. And we're increasingly working on expanding opportunities for out-of-state students to have additional opportunities to register online. Instead of having it be a more difficult or arduous process than out-of-state students already face.

Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm Rylee Barnsdale chatting with EMU student Naomi Barbour. Naomi, like you said, this isn't your first election year where you've been actively working to get more students knowledgeable and excited about voting. Can you give me a little bit of background on how you got started with this particular work at Eastern?

Naomi Barbour: Oh, no, of course. So, at Eastern, during the 2022 midterm election, specifically, I was actively participating in get out the vote efforts on the campus. And we were just tabling. We were speaking with students doing class raps, and we were really just informing students about not only the rights that they have to vote, but the importance of voting. And this was all through a campus vote project I had done. They have a democracy fellowship where they invite students to join and be a part of institutionalizing civic engagement on campus. And this program really helped to kind of push students toward a more politically-engaged dialog that really harnesses voting instead of hearkening back to our previous laws that we are no longer affiliated with, especially as we're seeing the Secretary of State moving in a more progressive direction in terms of voting legislation.

Rylee Barnsdale: So, you mentioned the campus vote project earlier. You also mentioned the Collegiate Student Advisory Task Force. As I understand it, that liaison position that you were in, that is a year-long commitment. So, you're no longer in that role.

Naomi Barbour: Yup.

Rylee Barnsdale: But I'm sure, given your commitment to this cause, that the work with students really hasn't stopped. Now, entering 2024, can you tell me a little bit about the student voting efforts you're working on now? What are you kind of focusing on with students?

Naomi Barbour: Of course. Gladly. So, thankfully, in honor of Black History Month coming around the corner, Eastern's Civil Rights and Social Justice Center is actually organizing a series of voter ID clinics throughout the year. So, currently, we're going to be having one this February. It'll be February 20th. We'll be all around campus from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.. We're going to be at Halle Library. We'll be our Pray-Harrold and the Student Center. And this are just going to be clinics. Just tables. Come and stop at a table. And these are going to be designed to not only provide valuable information but also to assist any students or community members with questions that they have about voter identification and the voting process in general.

Rylee Barnsdale: So, this is even going beyond just on campus and first-time voters--or student voters, I should say--and looking more at the community and ensuring that the entire Ypsi community is engaged?

Naomi Barbour: Yes, that's exactly right. We'll be asking anybody that has any questions about voter ID, of course. You know, some of these locations might have more student involvement than others, but, of course, we'll be speaking with staff. Anybody that comes through will be making sure that their voter I.D. questions are answered.

Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm talking with EMU third-year political law student Naomi Barbour. So, Naomi, Eastern's students have a number of ways to go about voting. Eastern has its own polling place now at the Honors College on Forest Avenue. I know many students are maybe not too far from home and can sometimes go home to vote. And, of course, there's the option of voting absentee. But is there a way to vote in this upcoming primary that you are promoting more to students? I know that, with the primary date moving, that kind of made a conflict for some students, given the upcoming recess on Eastern's campus.

Naomi Barbour: Yes. No, that is correct. And that was an issue that we had brought up, actually, at the task force, when we had heard about the date being announced during spring break for our campus. We had really kind of advocated and pushed for the legislature to move the date. But it was a little just to everyone's timing. It was a little off. And we were not successful with that. So, once we were not successful at that, we pivoted. And that was, thankfully, how we were able to garner the nine days of early voting. And if anything that we've recommended or prescribed to students is, of course, voting on Election Day. But we also do have this new opportunity for nine days of early, in-person voting that all voters have a right to in the state. And that is, if anything, we've just been emphasizing that not only is Election Day important, but now we have access to these new nine days.

Rylee Barnsdale: And I know that, like you said, too, there's some other efforts going around on campus with other organizations on campus to get students more informed, as well as getting registered. Are there any other opportunities you want to mention for students coming up to be more informed and to get more educated? I know you mentioned Halle Library. Is there anything else, maybe, if you're not actively participating in anything you want to plug or other organizations you're working with?

Naomi Barbour: Oh, yes. Of course. Thank you for asking. So, my events, as I described, are a little bit later in the month of February. And then, of course, we'll be having another one in November. But, with our Engage office here at EMU, they are also doing voter registration. So, they'll just be getting voters registered on campus. They're having events this coming Tuesday, actually, at the Student Center from 12 to 3. They'll also be at the Student Center February 1st, 12 to 3. And then, they'll be doing some sporting events. They'll be meeting at the women's gymnastic meet on February 2nd and the men's basketball game on February 6th. So, they're pretty out and about. Our Engage office is pretty on it when it comes to our elections.

Rylee Barnsdale: And I'd like to wrap things up here with you, Naomi, by asking your opinion on the importance of student voting. Why, in your opinion, do you think that students especially should exercise their right to vote, get involved with politics, whether they're doing it at a national level or even at a local level?

Naomi Barbour: Right. Honestly, I think politics is always at a crucial moment. But I feel like, more than ever, are we at a crossroads with academic freedoms and student voting. And I think that getting the voice out of students is more critical than ever, not only to represent our campus, not only to represent Ypsi, but students on the state and national scale. I think it's essential to make our voices heard and a part of the democratic process, whether joining a club, whether you're participating in a political campaign, whether you're working with the Civil Rights Center to get students registered to vote. I think that any participation is crucial in continue aiding and updating our democratic values. And that, honestly, is what continues to inspire me to actively engage in these voter participation efforts and motivates me to encourage my fellow students to get involved.

Rylee Barnsdale: Well, thank you so much for chatting with me today, Naomi. I wish you all the best in everything that's to come.

Naomi Barbour: Yes. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I really appreciate you for bringing more light to the subject always.

Rylee Barnsdale: And let's hope that your efforts, as well as the other voting initiatives across EMU's campus, lead to a high turnout come Election Day on February 27th, as well as in November. For more information on today's topic and links to the full article, visit our website at WEMU dot org. On the Ground Ypsi is brought to you in partnership with Concentrate Media. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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