This story was written by Julie Rowe, Michigan Daily
Previously barred from canvassing in the dorms by University of Michiganpolicy, the College Democrats held a last-ditch voter registration effort in most campus residence halls.
With the deadline to register to vote for next months presidential election at midnight Monday, about 40 members of the group met at the union to get clipboards and registration forms.
The group wasnt allowed to coordinate canvasses in the dormsbecause of the university'ssolicitation policy, said Nathaniel Eli Coats Styer, chairman of College Democrats at Michigan. The university is prohibited from using public resources to support or oppose a political candidate by state and federal laws.
It wasnt that it was banned before, he said. It was that it was a gray area.
The group has encouraged its members who live in residence halls to talk to their neighbors about Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and help them register to vote, but the group had never held a coordinated canvassing effort before. The College Dems registered about 60 people in two hours last night.
Before, the only group allowed to register voters in the residence halls was Voice Your Vote, a non-partisan commission of the Michigan Student Assembly. Voice Your Votes access to the residence halls was temporarily restricted last week after Housing officials reported accusations of partisanship amongst members of the MSA-sponsored group.
Styer said a decision to allow the College Democrats to canvass the dorms was made after members from the group and lawyers for the Obama campaign met with representatives from the housing office and the Office of the General Counsel. He said the attorneys argued that allowing the College Democrats to carry out campaign efforts in the dorms didnt conflict with the universitys requirement to refrain from endorsing or opposing candidates.
Styer said an Obama lawyer notified him of the decision, adding that the university would notify residence hall staff early this week.
University Housing officials could not be reached for comment.
Before volunteers for the College Democrats were allowed to canvass last night, senior Sam Marvin, who coordinates the groups residence hall outreach, explained voter registration law and how to fill out forms.
Marvin said an agreement reached between the housing office and College Democrats required the group to follow the same rules as Voice Your Vote: All volunteers had to wear nametags and carry their MCards, they couldnt approach students with no solicitation signs on their doors and they couldnt canvass after 10 p.m.
Unlike Voice Your Vote, though, College Democrats volunteers are only allowed to canvass in their own dorms, Marvin said. That is, residents of Markley Hall are only allowed to knock on doors in Markley.
The College Democrats dont have to remain non-partisan. They are free to wear T-shirts supporting Obama, pass out literature about the Illinois senator and encourage students to vote for the candidate.
Still, Marvin cautioned members of the group to be on their best behavior.
We cant have any complaints, said Marvin, who also asked group members to keep track of which doors they knocked on. If there are any incidents, thats how we can defend ourselves.
Marvin said volunteers didnt report any problems last night. He said a few resident advisers told his group members they werent allowed to canvass in the dorms.
Brent Colburn, spokesman for Obamas Michigan campaign, praised the decision to permit partisan campaigning in the residence halls.
We are happy with the universitys decision and believe it will allw voter registration efforts on campus to reach more eligible voters and get them to the polls on Election Day, he said.
Brady Smith, chair of the universitys chapter of the College Republicans, said he was taken aback and wasnt aware of such a decision.
Im a little surprised that they were able to leverage that after the alleged violation, Smith said, referring to accusations that people were registering voters in the dorms in violation of university policy.
Id imagine thats going to apply to both ends of the spectrum, Smith said, of the decision to allow partisan campaigning in the residence halls. Well be starting this week.