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Tech, Finlandia hold voter registration drives

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton Clerk Ann Vollrath helps Joe Tomei, a second-year materials science major at Michigan Technological University, fill out a voter registration form during National Voter Registration Day Tuesday.

HOUGHTON — Students at Michigan Technological University and Finlandia University got help registering to vote or answering their questions about their voter status on campus Tuesday for National Voter Registration Day.

Michigan Technological University set up booths at the entrance to campus and at the husky statue, where Houghton Clerk Ann Vollrath was on hand to assist people with registering. There were also QR codes available linking to online voter registration tools and literature with instructions on registering to vote and requesting an absentee ballot.

People from Tech’s College of Arts and Sciences faculty also assisted, said Zachary Olson, with Tech’s Undergraduate Student Government and the Campus Election Engagement Project.

Last year, they interacted with about 200 people, Olson said. The most common questions from people who are not sure if they are registered, or from people looking to vote absentee, Olson said.

At Finlandia University, about 60 students had stopped by the booth for a two-hour event, where Houghton County Clerk Jennifer Kelly had helped with information, said Cindy Cowell, director of TRIO Student Support Services.

COVID-19 had resulted in paring back the usual drive. In the last presidential election, there was a table set up for a week in a residence hall lobby, including a representative from the Michigan Secretary of State. But even then, they only came in contact with 100 students, Cowell said.

“The big benefit was because so many of our students are from out of state, they just didn’t understand how they can participate in the November election,” she said.

Some new staff members also stopped by the booth, Cowell said.

With their college address, students from out-of-state can still register to vote in Michigan. For students who want to register in their home state, the people at the booth directed them to vote.org to check their registration status, and then to that state’s election website.

The day was valuable for students, many of whom had said they had said they were unsure about where to start, Cowell said. She was also able to direct students voting locally to their polling place — Hancock City Hall, for those in a residence hall. There is also a drop box there for absentee voters registered in Hancock.

“I think today students really found out it’s not difficult to get registered to vote in November,” Cowell said.

The day helps provide extra logistical help at Tech, where a large portion of the student body might be registered to vote in hometowns out of the area, Olson said.

Tech also has higher-than-average percentages of male students and engineering students, both of which are less likely than average to vote.

“So not only help from a logistical point of view, but you also need to give more encouragement than you might need to do at other schools,” Olson said.

Olson is also chair of USG’s Political Affairs Committee, which is hosting an event for students later this fall with candidates for the 110th District for the State House of Representatives. All but one candidate has agreed to participate, he said.

“All this stuff we do, it’s just with the purpose of improving this political situation on campus, helping people get more engaged, taking a more active role in civic life,” he said.

In previous elections, third-year Tech geological engineering student Kolby Carpenter had either been too young to vote, or forgotten about it. This time, he wanted to make his voice heard, he said while filling out a registration form.

“I think it’s important for people to vote to make sure that people that they feel should be representative are in the government so you don’t have an overbearing government starting control of its people,” he said. “You want people to have the word in what goes on and not just the upper-class elite.”

Andrew Eaton, a third-year civil engineering student, was already registered, but thought the day would be a good time to sign up for an absentee ballot.

“We support people who want the same things as us, hopefully,” he said. “That’s the first step to the next four years or whatever it may be that you’re voting for.”

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