Student and Faculty Spotlights

IRIS Affiliate Faculty brings election experience to the classroom

IRIS Affiliate Faculty brings election experience to the classroom

Interest Area(s)
Integrative Studies, Political Science

Dan Cope, affiliate professor of integrative studies, has been involved with election work for several years. She has served on multiple receiving boards and administered the 2020 elections as a Deputy Clerk in Grand Rapids. With election season coming up, we chatted with Dan about her experience working with elections and how she engages students in her classroom with the topic.

How did you get involved with voter registration and elections?
Since turning 18, I have participated in elections as a voter, but it was only recently that I began to work as an election administrator. In 2017, I joined the Clerk’s office in Grand Rapids Township as a certified election inspector. During this time, I worked every local, state, and national election for four years in various capacities registering voters, administering and receiving absentee ballots, and serving on the Absent Voter Counting Board and Receiving Board. Working the 2020 presidential election was both challenging and rewarding as I realized how vital it is that citizens understand how elections are administered and have faith that their clerks will dutifully execute that process.

Why are you passionate about this work?
Jane Addams argued that democracy is not merely a system of government but a lifestyle. It is something that we must practice every day. A healthy community is an inclusive community, which only occurs when every member is empowered to participate. When we see and hear one another, we are more sensitive to the injustices that occur in our society and are better equipped to work together to address such problems. In this spirit, I believe voter participation is an act of love for our neighbors and community members. As an educator, I consider it my duty to nurture compassionate, critical, and engaged citizens who see themselves as contributors and defenders of democracy.

How do you incorporate this topic into your classes and engage students?
I primarily teach INT 100 which includes a unit on civic engagement. The coursework I have developed allows students to research information about the election process by reporting on local governance, ballot initiatives, and voting rules and responsibilities. As a class, we have attended Democracy 101 sessions such as the First Time Voter Workshop organized by the Community Service Learning Center’s coalition for Campus Democratic Engagement. International students who are citizens of foreign countries have reported on their electoral process as well. In Winter 2021, a student from Myanmar shared the devastating consequences of the military’s invalidation of the 2020 general election and the suspension of democracy in her country. She chose to share this with her classmates as a parallel narrative to the assault on election integrity simultaneously occurring in the U.S.

What advice would have for someone (faculty, staff, or student) who would like to get involved with voter registration or elections?
Become an election inspector! All elections need people to support the voting process in various capacities like being a poll worker, a member of the receiving and counting boards, and to act as ballot couriers on election day. Interested citizens should contact their local clerks to apply. In addition to working on Election Day, I encourage students to volunteer to work voter registration drives organized by the GVSU Votes initiative.

For any questions, feel free to contact Dan Cope at


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Page last modified November 4, 2021