Michigan's presidential primary is approaching, and two Northern Michigan University selected to serve on the new Collegiate Student Advisory Task Force under Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson are actively working on campus to increase young voter engagement.
Jacob Ogea of Marquette and Anthony Rospierski of Midland are among 33 task force members statewide—selected from nearly 100 applicants. The group was formed last fall to advise on the unique challenges encountered by voters ages 18-24 and to recommend a series of programmatic, administrative or policy changes to address those challenges.
“Civic engagement is important and it was great that the task force included members from the Upper Peninsula,” said Ogea, a secondary education social studies major. “I learned about some of the barriers college students face and the changes associated with Proposal 2 that passed in 2018, and I plan to stress the importance of registering to vote and voting in my future classrooms.”
The task force is billed as "a first-of-its-kind effort to empower the next generation of voters." The goal of the nonpartisan effort, according to the Secretary of State's website, is to ensure that students' voices are heard as the recent Promote the Vote constitutional amendment is implemented.
“I have always been interested in politics and public service,” said Rospierski, a special education major. “I served one year on ASNMU as a representative for Up Campus when West Hall and Spooner Hall were still both residence halls. Midway through the year, West closed and I was then the Spooner Hall representative. I think that students and all young people need to stay involved and aware of the political climate, regardless of political affiliation.”
The task force met over a few months and submitted its final recommendations for improving young voter engagement to Benson in late November. The five suggestions are: on-campus resources, online absentee voter ballot application, plain language ballot summaries, innovations for easier return of absentee voter ballots and requiring permanent absentee voter list provision.
As of 2020, task force members are working with the Secretary of State's Office as civic engagement liaisons on their respective campuses.
“That's the wonderful thing about a change in generational leadership is that fresh new ideas are brought to the table when creating solutions to problems facing the country," said Rospierski. "The task force is trying to allow all voters, especially the young voters, a chance to make their voices and ideas heard. With this a large election year, I want to ensure that everyone who wishes to vote can vote in the 2020 primary, general and special elections. I would like to see Michigan's voter turnout increase as compared to 2016.”
The Secretary of State's website states that, historically, students in Michigan faced significant barriers to voting and participated in elections at lower rates than older age groups. Members of the task force will work together the remainder of 2020 to combat this historic participation gap.
The students who serve represent 31 communities across Michigan and 23 community colleges, colleges and universities statewide. Task force members were selected by members of the Department of State's Election Modernization Advisory Committee and Secretary of State staff leadership.