Social Science Scholar: Michigan Department of State

This summer, I interned in the Executive Office of the Michigan Department of State in Lansing, Michigan for ten weeks. The Michigan Department of State, like other state Departments of State, is responsible for managing elections and issuing driver’s licenses and other forms of government identification. In Michigan, as in many other states, the Department of State is the most visible and public-facing department of government. Michigan voters passed two major amendments to the state Constitution in 2018, both centered on the electoral process. Proposal 2 established the procedures for assembling an independent, non-partisan citizen redistricting commission. Proposal 3 expanded voting rights by allowing any registered Michigan voters to cast their ballot absentee and allowing non-registered voters to register up to and on election day, among other things.

Alex is on the right in this picture. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is third from the right and Michigan Director of Elections Sally Williams is second from the left.

During my internship, I worked on a number of projects for the Department of State. The most important and far-reaching of these was focused on increasing turnout in areas of the state with historically low turnout levels. I used data from the past four major election cycles (2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018) to find the precincts with the lowest levels of voter turnout. Once I compiled that list, I worked with members of the executive staff to develop strategies to increase turnout levels, such as moving polling locations or holding community events to encourage people to vote. We also shared our findings with researchers at the University of Michigan-Flint to include a more academic perspective on the issue of voter turnout. When my internship ended, we were in the process of moving a local clerk’s office to a more central and accessible location to make it easier to register to vote. At various points in the summer, I was able to attend meetings of various legislative committees and election reform commissions I also staffed a town hall where Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson answered voters’ questions about the redistricting commission established by Proposal 2. 

My internship and broader experience within the Social Science Scholars program helped me gain a clearer focus on my plans post-graduation. I have decided to use my fourth and final year as an undergraduate at Florida State to fulfill requirements for dual degrees in Political Science and Spanish. I already intended to pursue a graduate degree, but some of my conversations with executive staff during my internship led me to reconsider my program of study, and to shift away from political science and toward data science. My ultimate goal is to work in either state or federal government, or as a researcher at a think tank, and to be able to use both my political science background and my data science skills to craft robust, empirically-derived public policy. I do not think I would have developed this insight had it not been for the Social Science Scholars program, and I am deeply appreciative of Drs. Mayo and Taylor, the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, the donors who funded my summer internship, and the other scholars in the 2019 cohort whom I have gotten to know over the past several months.

Alex Adams is a junior from Melbourne, Florida. He is pursuing a double major in political science and Spanish. 

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