As University of Minnesota senior Audra Weigand planned her Election Day schedule, she noticed she was too busy to turn out to the polls.
She remembered reading about a campus early vote center on Facebook, and headed over to use it a week before the general election. Weigand’s was one of about 2,800 of votes cast at the early vote center housed in the University's Field House.
Contributing around 26,000 early votes cast citywide, the center brought in the lowest turnout numbers of all four early vote locations. Still, experts say the center’s presence on campus contributed to more students turning out than in previous midterm elections.
“We wanted to try and reach out to the student population,” said Minneapolis chief elections official Casey Carl. “The motivation behind that was really driven by the fact that, nationally, research shows the younger demographic of voters, 18 to 30, traditionally ... have shown the lowest turnout.”
This was the first election that had an early vote center on campus. Carl said making voting accessible for students and immigrant populations was a goal of the placement.
“[The area around the University] is also an area that’s very high in terms of immigrant populations who are new citizens, so close to Cedar-Riverside for example, and so we were trying to make sure we hit multiple audiences for potential voters who have shown historically low rates of turnout,” Carl said.
The downtown early vote center and a north Minneapolis location have existed since 2016. This election, a Northeast location was moved to campus. Uptown also had a center for the first time.
“I think the [University] location did okay,” Carl said. “I think it can do better in the future, but this is our first year at the campus, and I think it would be good for us to commit to a longer term partnership with the campus so … the neighborhood can start to get used to it."
The three neighborhood locations were only open for the seven days leading up to Election Day, while the downtown location opened Sept. 21. The downtown location saw the highest turnout with around 12,200 ballots cast.
“I had thought about early voting in past elections, but it was always at different areas like downtown, or at other spots that were off campus. This location was really accessible for me. I just don’t take public transit very often,” Weigand said.
In preparation for the 2020 presidential election, the City is working with University administration and neighborhood vote center employees to gather feedback on the location’s success, Carl said.
“I think early voting and the ability to cast a ballot on campus was a smart innovation. Anything that lowers the cost of casting a ballot is likely to increase turnout,” said Larry Jacobs, director of the University's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance. “I hope the University will continue to encourage student voting.”