Groups mobilize students to vote

MPIRG registered 275 voters during Tuesday’s National Voter Registration Day.
Minnesota Public Interest Research Group youth vote organizer Andy Pearson, right, assists computer science freshman Alex David in completing voter registration Tuesday afternoon on the Washington Avenue Bridge. Grace University Lutheran Church and the League of Women Voters Minneapolis held similar events as part of National Voter Registration Day.
September 26, 2012

Volunteers took to the University of Minnesota campus Tuesday for the first-ever National Voter Registration Day.

Groups like the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, which registered 275 people throughout the day, stepped up their usual efforts.

Students approached volunteers wondering how to register, whether they can vote in Minneapolis or how to vote absentee.

“A lot of out-of-state students don’t know they’re eligible to vote — people think they have to vote at home,” said political science junior Michelle Thimios, co-chair of the University chapter of MPIRG.

Volunteers at Grace University Lutheran Church also registered students like Katelyn Kildahl, who was uncertain how to register and happened to see a sign outside the church.

“I guess this was really spontaneous,” said Kildahl, a business management and education sophomore who originally planned to register on Election Day.

Biomedical student Jenna
Zimmerman registered Tuesday because she didn’t want to wait until Election Day.

“I wanted to do it now or else I might not do it later,” Zimmerman said.

In the 2008 election, Minnesota had an estimated 78 percent voter turnout.

Though some polls predict a decline in youth voter turnout this year, MPIRG members aren’t noticing a decrease.

Since Welcome Week, the group has registered 3,773 voters in the Twin Cities, more than the numbers at this time in past years.

Across the state, the group has registered 6,500.

“From what we’ve seen, students are excited and ready to vote,” said Ian Kantonen, youth vote organizer for MPIRG.

MPIRG State Board Rep. Brian Dailey-Arndt said people who register fully intend to vote, but some young voters are still unsure if they’ll vote.

A July Gallup poll found only 58 percent of people 18- to 29-years old said they are “definitely likely to vote” in the upcoming elections, compared to 78 percent in 2008.

“Students are one of those groups that have really underperformed as far as turning out to vote because of obstacles that they face,” said Josh Spaulding, spokesman for the Fair Elections Legal Network, which launched the Campus Vote Project.

Spaulding said students are often uncertain of registration rules, where to vote and transportation to the polls.

“They don’t make it easy for students,” Dailey-Arndt said, especially with voting taking place on Tuesdays during classes.

“It is essential we get students to vote,” he said. “So much of what happens in the political arena affects students’ lives drastically.”

Sarah Stern, spokeswoman for the League of Young Voters Education Fund, said the group looks at registration and voting as a “gateway” to getting involved in making laws and having an influence in the community.

Not immune from politics                                 

In addition to registering voters, MPIRG members have been asking students to sign a pledge to vote “no” on the proposed marriage and voter ID amendments. Tuesday, however, the group didn’t ask students to pledge.

During the Community Involvement Fair last Thursday, Sasha Shilko said she was uncertain about the voter ID amendment.

Shilko, a PSEO student, said it seems like common sense “to provide an ID for something like voting.”

But she added that she’s heard about how hard voter ID laws can be for some people.

“It’s such a barrier to them, and they might have been voting for decades at this point,” Shilko said.

Kantonen said the amendment is a “solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“One of the scariest things about that amendment is it does seem like common sense,” he said.

Speech-language-hearing sciences sophomore Courtney Lennon is originally from Wisconsin but registered Tuesday to vote in Minnesota partly so she can vote “no” on the voter ID amendment.

“There are some issues I’d rather vote on here rather than back in Wisconsin,” she said.

The League of Women Voters Minneapolis, like MPIRG, is taking a stance against the voter ID amendment but keeps registration separate from advocacy.

“Voter registration and offering information about what’s on the ballot are different things,” said Sharon Emery, program manager for LWVMpls.

The deadline to register in Minnesota is Oct. 16 by mail and Nov. 6 in person with proof of residency.

Spaulding said when people start voting at a young age they “end up becoming very consistent voters throughout the rest of their life.”

“The more people that we have voting — the more eligible students we have voting — the stronger our democracy is,” he said.


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