Energizing Youth and Historically Excluded Communities to Vote in Michigan

March 10, 2023

As we take a look back on civic engagement efforts across the country leading up to Election Day, the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (LCVEF) is reflecting on the value of sincere civic engagement to unite and build voter power in historically excluded communities across the country. LCVEF and our state partners as part of the Conservation Voter Movement are engaging communities to be an active part of the electoral process.

In Michigan, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (MLCVEF) worked concurrently with LCVEF’s Democracy For All Michigan (DFA MI) program and Civics360 to lead community civic engagement work, including voter registration, poll worker recruitment, public education efforts, and Get Out the Vote events in historically excluded communities — namely Black communities within the Detroit area.

(photo from an on-campus voter registration event)

One connection through civic engagement can ripple through a community and create waves. Olu Jabari, State Director of DFA MI, spoke about how, “We went to a BIPOC community and one of the ladies came out and said, ‘This has never happened over here.’ She’s been there for like 40 years. No one’s ever knocked on her door and said, ‘Hey, are you ready to vote? Are you interested in learning how to get registered to vote? Can I help you? Can I set you up?’ She said that has never happened. And it’s phenomenal how it spreads. That one person at their next community meeting talked about that. And so now, we are invited to come speak during a community function.”

Democracy for All Michigan took civic engagement a step further last fall by heavily engaging young voters, and was supported by Detroit Public Schools Community District and across college campuses to host voter education seminars and help students to make a plan to vote, registering over 3,000 voters and hosting over 25 voter education seminars in schools and communities. DFA Michigan also worked with Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist to kick off the Michigan First Vote Tour, a three-stop tour aiming to register new voters, disprove voting disinformation, and ensure young voters have everything they need for a successful first vote.

Olu championed the importance of centering young voters in his outreach, stating “Going into the schools was huge because we got the young mixed with the seasoned adult voters and that mix is just great because everybody’s got a story.”

Energizing our youth is critical to ensuring a healthy democracy and a healthy environment — setting up young people with the foundation to be civically engaged will have a lifelong positive impact. By making voting more accessible for youth in schools, even their parents are getting involved during open houses and during school drop-offs. We have to build trust and power in communities at every opportunity to actively engage in the change we want to see.

In addition to directly reaching young voters, Michigan LCVEF met voters where they were at in parks, neighborhoods, and community events, distributing resources in Spanish, and increasing voter turnout for communities historically excluded in the Detroit metro area. Brooke Harris, the Voting Rights Manager at MLCVEF said that “We’re making sure that everyone is reminded to vote and reminded of the many many options that they have. You don’t have to vote on a Tuesday if it’s not conducive to your work schedule.”

(Brooke Harris, Voting Rights Manager at MLCVEF, at Spirit of Democracy event with the Detroit Piston’s mascot, Hooper)

It is vital to center communities facing the greatest barriers to access the civic engagement process, who are often the same communities facing the greatest impacts from the climate crisis. Brooke knows firsthand how important it is to center and empower these communities and help voters be informed of all of their rights, especially with new legislation in place.

Brooke became passionate about community organizing after witnessing how her home and neighborhood were often ignored by voter initiatives and canvassers and believes that energizing and making it easier for all communities to be informed is absolutely worth the effort, especially in Michigan. Brooke stated that, “Michigan is a state where the future of democracy is on the line.” With invigorated work done by Michigan LCVEF last election, Brooke made it clear that “Voting is safe and secure, we’ve got your back. There are many ways for you to vote how you’re most comfortable and we will get that information to you to make sure people can still exercise this fundamental right.”

(photo from Get Out The Vote civic engagement event)

Olu remarked, “When we talk about going to these places many won’t go, that’s where we have to go. You have to be where the people are so they can understand the power they hold.” He added, “It was very good to talk to people in the communities — homeless people, people who are working, people who are in corporate entities, people in the churches, people in community centers — wherever people are.” We all deserve fair and just involvement in who we elect to represent our communities.
(photo of Olu Jabari, State Director of DFA MI)

Now, Michigan LCVEF is working to implement and educate voters on Proposal 2, which Michiganders overwhelmingly voted for as a ballot initiative to expand voting rights through a constitutional amendment last fall.

Implementation of Proposal 2 significantly reforms voting policies to be more equitable for Michigan voters with the inclusion of:
Nine days for early in-person voting;

  • Implementation of state-funded absentee-ballot drop boxes, and state-funded postage for absentee applications and ballots;
  • Recognizing the fundamental right to vote safely without harassing conduct;
  • Military or overseas ballots to be counted if postmarked by Election Day;
  • Voters’ right to verify identity with a signed statement, instead of requiring photo ID;
  • Voters’ right to a single application to vote absentee in all elections;
  • Post-election audits to be conducted by election officials only;
  • Required disclosure of donations to fund elections;
  • Election result certification by election boards to be based only on the official records of votes cast.

Click here to sign up for updates on Michigan LCVEF’s work.