Group aims to make voting cool in Detroit

At 27, Allison Kriger knows why many people her age choose to live in Detroit, but not necessarily vote there.

As a Bridge story pointed out last month, expensive auto-insurance rates drive many residents to conceal their true addresses from their insurers, and fail to register to vote at their Detroit addresses.

But Kriger, an attorney and lifelong Detroiter, wants to give them a civics lesson.

Vote Detroit logo“It’s shortsighted to say you don’t vote because of insurance,” she said. “When people say they want to be a part of Detroit resurgence, you have to be a part of the process. The reason car-insurance rates have stayed the same, and are exorbitant, is because the consumers don’t have a voice. They just accept it.”

Kriger and a friend, Ellen Schneider, are launching Vote Detroit, a public-awareness campaign to persuade Detroit voters to come out of the shadows, declare themselves for their city, and participate in the simplest act of participatory democracy – voting.

“First, you have to have a voice,” Kriger said. “We have to start being a city that shapes our services instead of acquiescing.”

Vote Detroit is an arm of Publius, a voter-education site founded by Vince Keenan, also a Detroit resident. Keenan said the psychology of persuading people to get serious about civic participation can be tricky. Shaming or chiding won’t be as effective, he says, as getting Detroit residents – particularly the newer ones enthusiastically moving into the city center – to rise to their responsibilities.

Mentioning the oft-heard complaint that the appointment of Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr represents “stealing democracy,” Keenan said that if people don’t turn out to vote in the cities where they live, they will contribute to the same thing.

“You want to be less the chiding schoolmarm, but say, ‘You won’t achieve anything if you don’t get serious about what you’re doing,’” Keenan said.

Kriger agrees. “We want to be a city that shapes its own future,” she said.

Kriger added that she and Schneider have identified four major reasons younger people may not feel compelled to register and vote -- and car-insurance rates is only one of them.

The others:

--They may lack information about local politics and issues.

--They may feel cynical about the political process.

--Or they may find the registration process cumbersome.

The Vote Detroit website contains information on where and how to register, as well as on Detroit’s new City Council districts. This year will be the first in almost a century in which council members will be elected from districts, rather than entirely at-large. Which is why the Vote Detroit campaign is so important now, Kriger said.

“People don’t seem to understand there’s a direct correlation between who’s elected, the policies in place, and how they’re changed,” she said.

Besides the website, Vote Detroit will have an extensive social-media presence, and be represented by posters and other visual cues around town.

“We’d like to be another ‘Detroit Hustles Harder,’” Kriger said, referring to ubiquitous T-shirts seen around the city in recent years. “We want to make it cool to be a voter, and uncool not to be.”

Keenan said the campaign’s effectiveness won’t necessarily be measured in numbers.

“I believe this is much more of an awareness-campaign kickoff on the importance of voting local,” he said. “To have this grow out of the state that created the motor-voter relationship is an interesting tweak to what was seen (at the time) as a visionary law.”

Staff Writer Nancy Nall Derringer has been a writer, editor and teacher in Metro Detroit for seven years, and was a co-founder and editor of GrossePointeToday.com, an early experiment in hyperlocal journalism. Before that, she worked for 20 years in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she won numerous state and national awards for her work as a columnist for The News-Sentinel.

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