Braving long lines, Michigan college students help propel Dem, Proposal 3 victories

By: - November 10, 2022 11:57 am

Line to register to vote and cast a ballot at the University of Michigan, Nov. 8, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Republicans’ predictions of a “red wave” in Michigan were dashed after Democrats enjoyed a higher-than-expected turnout on Tuesday — propelled in part by a large youth presence at the polls, with some lines at universities being more than five hours long.

Michigan allows same-day voter registration, which drove the long lines of first-time voters on college campuses.

Proposal 3 — a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights in Michigan — appears high on the list of issues that turned out young people and women in droves. That measure boasted roughly 56.7% of the vote with all 83 counties reporting, according to unofficial returns — winning by a 13=point margin.

“I was willing to wait however long I needed to” to vote for Proposal 3, said Hailey MacDonald, a 21-year-old Michigan State University senior.

She waited to register and vote for nearly five hours inside MSU’s Brody Cafeteria.

“I think I would have waited all night if I needed to. I mean, I can’t really put a timeframe on my rights,” MacDonald told the Advance on Wednesday.

Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel, who was reelected Tuesday with a 9-point margin over Republican Matt DePerno, was one of several officials to praise youth turnout. 

An hour south in Ann Arbor, University of Michigan senior Mara Sabin, 21, waited in her voting line at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) for close to six hours to vote for Prop 3, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Democrats down the ballot.

Roe v. Wade being overturned was so heartbreaking,” Sabin said of the U.S. Supreme Court’s GOP June court decision. “I had to do anything that I could to make sure that we still had those rights in Michigan.

“I talked to a lot of people in line and they said that was also their big reason,” Sabin said, adding that she noticed “a lot more women in line than men.”

At both polling locations, MacDonald, Sabin and hundreds of their student counterparts withstood the waits long after polls had officially closed. Michigan law allows citizens to exercise their right to vote as long as they are in line by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

The last voter at the University of Michigan cast her ballot after 2 a.m. Wednesday, the Michigan Daily reported.

NextGen and MoveOn hosted an event Saturday featuring U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at U of M aimed at getting young voters to the polls. Sanders, the leader of the national progressive movement, also did stops in other key swing states.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks in East Lansing during the final rally of her re-election campaign on Nov. 7, 2022. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

“Young people are relentlessly committed to building the infrastructure needed to harness the full power and potential of the largest and most diverse generation in American history,” said NextGen America President Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez. “From abortion access to economic justice, young people recognized the stakes and mobilized to address some of the most challenging issues our country has ever faced.

“Young people just sent a clear message: the future belongs to us — and there’s no room for hatred, greed, or fear in the country we will continue to build.”

Michigan Democrats made college campuses a focus in the last week of the campaign. The Democratic ticket did a big rally with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who ran for president in 2020 and is now a Michigan resident, at U of M on Friday night.

Whitmer held her last campaign rally Monday night with the Democratic ticket on the campus of her alma mater, Michigan State University, where she told students that their votes were crucial.

“This election could be decided by a few thousand votes. That could be made up just on this campus alone,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a member of “The Squad,” a group of progressive female lawmakers, noted the power of Millennial and Gen Z voters nationwide.

Both polling spots in Ann Arbor and East Lansing saw large volunteer efforts providing food, water, snacks and more, with helpers at UMMA providing blankets and scarves to students standing out in the cold.

Ken Whittaker, executive director of Michigan United and Michigan People’s Campaign, tweeted that the latter group had “heavy voter contact” in several congressional districts and student organizers getting their peers out to vote on the MSU campus.

“Those organizers stayed there until every single student voted,” Whittaker said.

Chris Savage, chair of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party and founder of the progressive news site Eclectablog, sent out a call for volunteers to help students waiting in line.

“Nobody was leaving [the lines],” said Savage. “That was really serious commitment from Gen. Z. I’m just very impressed and gratified that it made such a difference. … That, and women just generally voting in higher numbers.”

Savage told the Advance Wednesday that he believes Prop 3 was a “hugely motivating factor” in turning out the vote, with “democracy itself” coming in as a “very close second.”

Volunteers passed out food and blankets to voters waiting in long voting lines at the University of Michigan on Nov. 8, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

“I mean, people here, especially in Washtenaw County, are just petrified that we’re going to sink into ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ … It’s hard not to believe that when you see what these people are saying, some of the stuff that people like [GOP  gubernatorial nominee Tudor] Dixon were saying,” Savage said.

“I felt like we had to win this so convincingly that nobody would ever try to pull that kind of stunt ever again.”

Whitmer defeated Dixon by 10.5 points on Tuesday. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson also won reelection, as the Michigan House and Senate flipped to Democratic control. The last time Democrats were in charge of both chambers was in 1984 — nearly 40 years ago.

Going forward, Savage says clerk’s offices like his in Ann Arbor are already having conversations about making sure voters won’t have to stand in lines for hours on end next time.

“You’ve got to have more in polling places on campus. If that’s where you’re getting that turnout, you need to be prepared for it,” Savage said.


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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.