The University of Minnesota may soon become one of the first universities in the nation to institutionalize online voter registration for incoming students.
A resolution mandating systemwide online voter registration for freshmen and transfer students moved through the Student Senate in early April after passing a Minnesota Student Association forum in March.
MSA is currently working with University administration and its IT department with a goal of beginning implementation with the incoming freshman class of 2023.
"No school has integrated voter registration online in the way we are looking to do this; that would really make the U of M a leader," said Christina Laridaen, MSA government and legislative affairs coordinator. "This is a way for students to be reminded that voting is something that is coming up for them on a regular basis.”
Under the new program, students would be prompted to register to vote either online during class registration or Welcome Week or within first year and transfer student curriculums.
The University is currently required through a federal act to make a "good faith effort" to distribute voter registration materials to students. Laridaen, who ran voter registration efforts at the beginning of the recent midterm election cycle, said institutionalized online registration is the best way to make a full-fledged effort.
"It's not possible to reach 30,000 students just handing out flyers and catching students on their way to class," she said. "I think on a campus this size, integrated voter registration is necessary for us to be doing our due diligence."
The resolution states the program has to be implemented by August 2020 at the latest, before the next presidential election. Laridaen said MSA is waiting for administrative approval before rolling out the initiative prior to the fall semester.
"We see this as an opportunity to roll this out and get it tested before the big election," she said.
The resolution may be significant in getting more students to the polls, said Hamline University political science professor David Schultz.
"In general, we know college students tremendously undervote their weight," he said. "When people are registered to vote, they're far more likely to vote. This is a good first step."
MSA, which has had an increased presence at the Capitol this session, will use the program to bolster ongoing student support for the University.
"Student voter turnout is integral to advocating for the continued funding and support of University and student needs," the resolution states.
Secretary of State Steve Simon voiced support for the initiative in March.
"By adding voting reminders and linking opportunities to the most utilized areas of the students' online experience (e.g. Registration, tuition payments, ... etc.), the University would create an institutional culture in support of voting and civic participation," Simon wrote in a letter of support.
Student turnout remained lower than city averages in the 2018 midterm elections, but student precincts voted at higher rates than in the midterm in 2014.
"While it is clear that Minnesota has a strong culture of civic engagement and connection to the power of voting-exemplified in our first-in-the-nation status in voter participation — it is equally clear that we cannot rest on that achievement," the letter of support reads.