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October 13, 2020

With Saginaw native's help, group aims to continue SVSU student voter registration trend in time for November election

With a passion for empowering often-underrepresented communities, Saginaw Valley State University student Angelo Martinez has focused his efforts on providing his peers the power to vote.
 
The Saginaw native this year joined SVSU’s Cardinals Vote, a non-partisan campus organization that relays resources and information regarding elections to students at the university.
 
“We need more people to vote,” said Martinez, a professional accountancy major. “Voter turnout is so important. Making sure others take advantage of their right to vote is something I have always been interested in.”
 
Boosting college student participation in elections can prove a challenging task in a typical year. Voter engagement increases with age, with  consistently showing citizens between the ages of 18 to 29 represent the smallest turnout percentage among eligible voters. One of the contributors to that low turnout: higher education students living on campuses – and away from the hometowns where many are registered to vote – often are unsure where and how they can vote in their college communities.
 
SVSU’s Cardinals Vote was created to tackle such challenges at SVSU. The organization demonstrated its effectiveness during the last major national election, the 2018 mid-terms. A report by The Institute for Democracy & Higher Education showed the percentage of SVSU students voting doubled during the 2018 election compared to the 2014 mid-terms, from 18.4% to 36.8%.
 
Martinez joined Cardinals Vote this fall in part to help the organization continue that positive trend. He understood, though, that the 2020 elections would present additional obstacles that his predecessors did not face when they advocated voting among their peers.
 
“The virus makes all of this more difficult,” Martinez said of COVID-19. “Because of social distancing, you can’t get people into a group to tell them how they can vote this year. You have to find other ways.”
 
With dedication and hard work, Martinez committed himself to finding those “other ways.”
 
Before the pandemic, one of Cardinals Vote’s most effective programs involved inviting Secretary of State voter registration mobile units on campus. And, on election days, the organization coordinated mass transportation for students to voting precincts. Because of social distancing guidelines, neither tactic was an option the group pursued this year.
 
Instead, Martinez and his Cardinals Vote peers in the fall began engaging in a much more tedious approach, spending hours walking the hallways, seeking students in need of help to participate in the election.
 
Practicing social distancing and wearing a protective face mask while conversing 1-on-1 with students about the sometimes-complicated matter of voter registration made the task exceptionally challenging, Martinez said. But his determination to help others kept him focused on the task.
 
“It’s not easy, but it’s important work,” he said.
 
Martinez’s passion for American democracy stretches back to his childhood. His grandfather, Daniel Soza, once served as an elected member of the Saginaw City Council. As a child, Martinez often talked with his grandfather about his work leading the community.
 
“I was always asking him about what he was doing on the council, and about different processes,” Martinez said.
 
Along with Martinez’s work on Cardinals Vote, he also signed up this year to help Power the Polls, a nonprofit organization that recruits election poll volunteers.
 
With a determined spirit and passion for helping others, he found time for those efforts despite a busy schedule that includes a full lineup of college courses and responsibilities elsewhere.
 
Martinez was elected president of the SVSU chapter of Beta Gamma Sigma, a business honors society. He also volunteers at Emmaus House of Saginaw, Inc., a home for women released from prisons and rehabilitation programs. There, he provides women with information technology support as well as help creating résumés. On top of all those duties, he serves as a delivery driver for Jimmy John's to help pay the bills.
 
“There are a lot of things going on right now,” Martinez said of his schedule. “I just want to help.”