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How a Bill Becomes Law: Big Ten Students Dive into Process in Policy Simulation

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After a few hours of spirited discussion, the U.S. Senate passed the Vote at Home Act of 2021. Now, all eligible American voters will be able to cast a ballot by mail without having to provide a reason. 

At least that’s what happened in three of the four committees of a virtual Big Ten policy simulation held in late January. 

About 60 students from a dozen of the Big Ten schools came together to discuss voting rights and create legislation. The Vote at Home Act simulation is part of Democracy in the 21st Century, a conferencewide collaboration to develop educational programming that promotes active civic education and engagement. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, opened the simulation with a welcoming statement. 

The students, divided into four committees, each played the role of an actual U.S. senator serving on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee — which is currently considering this bill. Three of the four cohorts approved the bill after adding amendments to make the bill more acceptable to the majority. 

“The student simulation is the second in what we hope will be a full slate of programs hosted by the Big Ten Collaboration for Democracy,” said Chris Adams, director of student services and programs at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs. “We are excited that our students had the unique opportunity to engage with their peers from across the Big Ten on the crucial issue of voting rights and access. We look forward to providing more opportunities for engagement around democracy in the upcoming months.” 

Ohio State public policy analysis senior Sri Vidya Uppalapati

Ohio State student Sri Vidya Uppalapati, a senior majoring in public policy analysis, said she had extensive experience with bureaucratic and policy advising, as well as advocacy to legislators, but not in a purely legislative setting. She played Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the ranking member of the Rules Committee. 

“Senator Blunt and I stand rather far apart on many issues, but the weight of responsibility both guiding the Republican caucus in the committee and the pressure to achieve bipartisan legislative success were new experiences,” Uppalapati said. 

“Also, the simulation was interesting in its structure,” Uppalapati said. “Going into different groups and navigating varying motives with people I barely knew was an opportunity to hone my quick critical thinking and conflict resolution skills.” 

University of Michigan student Maxwell Weng, a senior computer science engineering major on the pre-med track, played Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the simulation.

“I have differing political views than the senator I played,” Weng said. “The simulation helped me understand how challenging it is to have stakeholders and representatives of diverging views work together and how antagonism and bad faith may lead to shared frustration.” 

A master’s student at the University of Maryland, Mario Sto. Domingo, was one of four people who played Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the senior Democratic senator and president pro tempore of the Senate. 

“I agree with many of his policy positions, including on voting rights, so I had a relatively easy time with the role,” Sto. Domingo said. “However, it was interesting to see other students portray senators who they disagree with, which definitely made the discussion more contentious and thought-provoking.” 

University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy Dean Michael Barr said it was “inspiring to see students from across the Big Ten working together to deepen our understanding of how to make progress on voting rights in these divisive times. I’m thrilled that the Ford School hosted this Big Ten policy simulation on voting rights and grateful for the leaders who developed the simulation.” 

Learn more about the Big Ten policy simulation from the University of Michigan’s Michigan News