For youngest voters elections are a new, exciting process

Published 6:08 am Sunday, October 28, 2012

ST. CLOUD — In two weeks, 19-year-old Rose Madison will vote for the first time, and like many young voters she isn’t exactly sure of the hows and whens of the ballot process.

Madison is a sophomore at St. Cloud State University, but she is from Minneapolis and wants to vote absentee.

“I’m afraid I won’t send it in right or something,” she said. “It’s a historical moment and I’m excited to vote, I just don’t want to do it wrong.”

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She’s not alone, and state and national candidates as well as representatives of both sides on key issues this year are battling to capture voters in her age group. Analysts of the 2008 election have pointed to President Barack Obama’s strong showing among youths, winning the under-30 crowd by 34 percentage points, as a key contribution to his selection.

Gallup, a national polling organization, reported in July that 58 percent of registered voters ages 18-29 said they would “definitely vote” in this election. However, that falls well below the current national average of 78 percent for all ages and is even lower than the 18-29 group’s voting intentions in the 2004 and 2008 elections.

To help clear up some of the confusion that comes with the voting process, local colleges such as St. Cloud State, St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict are working with student organizations to assist their students with preregistration, absentee ballots and finding the correct polling stations.

“The goal is helping students to become as informed as possible,” said Jody Terhaar, dean of students for St. Ben’s. “We have been putting a lot of effort into making sure our students are registered. We’re making sure they know how to vote and that they have all of the information they need to vote.”

In Minnesota, you may register at least 20 days before Election Day, or on Election Day at your polling place.

“If students are going to register same day, they need to be able to present proof of residency at the correct polling location they are supposed to go to,” Terhaar said.

“The same-day registration, preregistration and absentee ballot information are the most asked about,” she said. “A lot of what we do is refer our students to their state websites because the sites have the most up-to-date information. Many of them try to make it easy for voters to find that information.”

For first-time student voters such as Madison, learning about the process can be the main challenge, but for others it’s about getting the right information.

Mark Mueller, 24, said he knows he’ll be voting on Election Day, but he won’t be filling out the entire ballot.

“Education is basically the big issue for me because I’m going to school to be a teacher,” Mueller said. “I wouldn’t say I’m really informed about all of the races and issues.”

Mueller said he plans to vote on maybe two races — presidential and the mayoral election.

“These elections just impact me more overall,” he said. “I haven’t looked at the other issues like Voter ID and the marriage amendment.”

Mueller isn’t alone in his plan to vote in some but not all races, said Sarah Miles, student services chair for St. Cloud State’s Student Government.

“Students haven’t hit the real world yet so some of the local races don’t seem as important yet,” Miles, 22, said. “I think it’s really important for students to remember that government is a hierarchy of local, state and federal. We tend to focus on the presidential race because the media is always hitting us in the face with the information, but sometimes voters forget that there are more than two candidates.”

Coming from the Internet age, many college-age voters are getting their information from candidate- and issue-centered websites. But many others like Mueller still get some information from televised debates.

“I do see it on TV, but I try to stay away from that,” he said. “I’d rather get my information from magazines or research it myself.”

Local college organizations, such as College Democrats and College Republicans, have been setting up on campuses and handing out information on candidates and issues that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“We have some really involved groups who have been leading the interest on campus,” Terhaar said. “There is a lot of interest and excitement in the election and participating in that process. They all want to do what’s best for the country and their communities.”

Local universities have been setting up opportunities for the students to meet candidates.

The Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement at St. John’s has been inviting candidates to the campus for its Politics and a Pint sessions to allow students to hear their platforms and ask questions.

“We want to help inform the students on the issues that are being presented to them,” said Matt Lindstrom, director of the center. “The McCarthy Center works with both the College Republicans and (College) Democrats to put together these kinds of events. We also work with issue-centered organizations in order to help bring awareness to topics.”

Walking onto a college campus, students are instantly presented with all sides of an issue, Miles said.

“If you want to know about the marriage amendment or the Voter ID amendment, all you have to do is walk into Atwood (Memorial Center), and you’ll find some of the most passionate people to tell you about it,” said Miles of St. Cloud State.

“Of course, students have to remember that they are also on a side of that issue,” she said. “If you want the best information, you should probably do your own research.”

At each of the colleges, booths are being set up to allow students the chance to register to vote locally. St. Cloud State’s Student Government preregistered more than 2,700 students this year.

“In conversations with students, I’ve learned that many are choosing to vote from their home state,” Terhaar said. “But because they live and go to school here (in Minnesota), they do have the option to vote locally.”