Candidate survey aimed at educating student voters

by Chris Vetter

Students have been accused of political apathy and cynicism for years.
There is truth to the charge. Voter turnout by Minnesotans ages 20-24 was less than 35 percent in 1994, compared to 53 percent for all voters, according to Minnesota secretary of state numbers.
But members of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group don’t think apathy is why student turnout is so low. Rather, they think it is because students are uninformed on the issues candidates stand for and therefore don’t feel qualified to vote.
Students need to make smart decisions, said Michael Dahl, the consumer and economics rights advocate for the research group. To do that, they need information. “Because (students) don’t have information to make smart decisions, they don’t vote,” Dahl said.
So MPIRG, a nonpartisan organization funded by voluntary student services fees, sent out questionnaires to all Republican, Democrat and third-party candidates seeking seats in the Legislature. The questions asked candidates for their opinions on issues ranging from raising the minimum wage to storing nuclear waste in dry casks at Prairie Island.
Dahl said questions about the environment and the economy fit the group’s goals, and are important issues to all students. “We chose issues that MPIRG has a history of working on,” Dahl said.
Students need to be better informed on candidates’ positions so they can vote to protect their interests, Dahl said.
“If you look at how decisions are made, the perspective of younger students need to be included,” Dahl said.
The research group received answers from about half of the state’s candidates, and response rates were fairly even between incumbents and challengers, Dahl said.
“I was surprised at how many (candidates) filled this out,” Dahl said.
The results of the questionnaire have been put into a packet that is free to all University students and the general public. “We wanted to make sure students have access to this information,” Dahl said.
MPIRG member Heather Hendersen said the packet will be very helpful to student voters. “It is very important for voter education,” Hendersen said. “If people are educated, they are more likely to vote.”