ArticlePage address: http://www.mnsu.edu/mssa/news/html/reshallvote.html
Residence Hall Voting Continues Steady Rise
Since 2002, voting for dorm-dwelling students at Minnesota State has been much more convenient. Before the City of Mankato redistricted in 2002, students living in Gage, Crawford and McElroy all cast their votes at precinct 15 in the Centennial Student Union. After redistricting, precinct 15 was moved off campus and the Gage lobby became the new home of precinct 16 while Crawford and McElroy became the site of precinct 13. From 2002 up through Tuesday's election, students living in residence halls have only needed to get in the elevator or walk down the stairs to cast their ballot, instead of making the trip to the CSU.
Since 2002, on campus voting has risen steadily.
In Tuesday's election, precinct 13 (Gage) and 16 (Crawford/McElroy) turned out 395 and 541 voters, respectively, for a total of 936 votes. The total number of students living on campus amounts to 2,610, which works out to more than 35 percent of campus-dwelling students that actually voted. This percentage does not take international students into account, however, because they cannot vote and also does not include students who chose to vote in their hometown.
Patty O'Connor, director of taxpayer services for Blue Earth County, which includes elections, said she doesn't think students should be voting at home.
"They live here a long time," O'Connor said. "What happens in this area affects them. They work here, they pay taxes here."
Despite absentee voting, campus voting for residence hall students in midterm elections has risen from 328 votes in 1994, 599 in 1998, 842 in 2002 and now sits at 936 in 2006.
The percentage is up more than six percent this year from 2002 when 2,835 students lived on campus and 842 actually voted.
Joe Kunkel, a professor of political science, said the rise in young voters has to do with a growing interest in politics among students since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"People see that the stakes are high," Kunkel said. "They know that it affects them. What they are questionable about is whether they can affect it."
Many factors can account for the slow, but steady climb on campus. Not the least of which is the fact that many candidates made campaign stops at MSU and in the greater Mankato area. Gubernatorial candidates Tim Pawlenty and Mike Hatch, United States Senate candidates Amy Klobuchar and Mark Kennedy and U.S. House candidates Tim Walz and Gil Gutknecht all campaigned in Mankato. Also, the Minnesota State Student Association (MSSA) put together a campaign to get college voters to the polls.
Spearheaded by Senator Ryan Anderson, MSSA held a candidate forum and stuffed student mailboxes with information on when and where to vote, what to bring along to the polls to get registered and a Web site link to the League of Women voters where students could get candidate information. They also stationed themselves at a table in the CSU during Tuesday's election to provide voting information to students.
Anderson said, however, he wasn't completely content with the outcome.
"In the future, I'd like to see the [vote] drive start earlier," Anderson said. "Maybe get somebody in charge of it in March."
He said he started the job in September and an earlier start would have allowed for more involvement with the city of Mankato. Anderson said he would have liked to be on the same page with election judges concerning what they would allow for registration and also wanted more time to let the residence halls know that MSSA would like to go door to door in the dorms to increase awareness among students. Current policy considers any person in the dorms who is not living there or visiting to be solicitation. MSSA is, therefore, unable to enter the dorms to get out the vote.
"Voter turnout on Tuesday was lower than I had hoped it would be," Anderson said. "The local candidates that spent so much time here and every major candidate who made an appearance … I would have hoped that it would have generated enough buzz where people would have had an interest in voting. Especially in the dorms where it is easiest to vote."
While campus voting is on the rise, it is still below the general population in the country.
Kunkel said it has to do with student's busy lives and the tendency for students to not associate themselves with a party.
"I think there is kind of a cultural norm among young people that being partisan is being stupid," Kunkel said. "You want to be a free person and thinking for yourself, but your not associating with any party and that's a central organizing element to help people figure out what's going on in an election."
Kunkel said students who stand apart from parties have a greater challenge to get informed on the races, issues and candidates.
The fact that some MSU students either voted in their hometown or in off-campus precincts where many non-students also vote makes it very difficult to quantify the actual number of MSU students who cast a ballot in Tuesday's midterm elections.
Benjamin Marti is the Reporter News Editor
After all the ballots had been cast, more than 35 percent of Minnesota State students living in the dorms turned out to vote in Tuesday's midterm election. It was about a six percent increase from the 2002 midterm election.