Don’t dismiss improvement in voter turnout

Though Aeriel Anderson’s Dec. 3 column “Reaction to voter turnout is overrated” correctly asserts that the surprisingly high turnout (61.4 percent) in this year’s midterm elections is nothing compared to democratic governments abroad, one fact remains: The increases in voter turnout were significant.

In Minnesota voter participation went up across the board, as evidenced by the increase in total votes for governor between 1998 and 2002. Minneapolis saw an 8.4 percent increase. St. Paul’s turnout rose by 6.4 percent. The seven-county metropolitan area increased 9.2 percent.

The increases in the central cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, which traditionally have low voter turnout, is especially significant because the adult suburban population has grown approximately six times faster than that of either central city.

The seven-county metro population increased 21.9 percent between the 1990 and 2000 censuses, whereas the population of Minneapolis and St. Paul increased 3.65 percent and 3.7 percent respectively.

This means the efforts of nonprofit organizations, such as the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, the Youth Vote Coalition, the Children’s Defense Fund and the Institute on Race and Poverty, focusing on urban areas (particularly the University area and north Minneapolis) mobilized many previously apathetic voters.

Engaging more young and low-income people – people who face the greatest barriers to voting because of unstable housing situations, unreliable transportation and inflexible work schedules – in the political process will result in greater voter participation in the future.

If the United States enacts reforms such as making Election Day a national holiday, similar to many other countries, then we could accurately compare our level of voter apathy. For now, this year’s increases represent a step in the right direction.

Ed Day, Youth Vote field coordinator