Melrose residents unable to vote Tuesday

Many students had improper identification and were turned away at the polls.

by Kathryn Nelson

Utility and rent bills just didn’t cut it for students registering to vote Tuesday.

According to apartment administration, election judges turned away approximately 100 students living in Melrose, University Commons and Keeler apartments from the polls Tuesday for not providing sufficient address verification.

By mid-afternoon on Election Day, a Hennepin County judge ruled in favor of the students, but it is unclear how many returned to the polls.

Journalism junior Andrew Cummins, who lives at University Commons, said he went to the polls Tuesday but was turned away because his lease and an addressed letter were not proper identification.

He said he did not return to vote because he was unable to find someone to confirm his residency.

“I don’t understand how a lease isn’t a proof of residence, but a cell phone bill is,” Cummins said.

DFL spokesman Nick Kimball said approximately 25 Melrose residents were turned away at the polls, despite providing a utility bill.

Kimball said the students contacted the DFL Election Protection Program, a service which enables citizens to report polling problems while also providing legal assistance to voters whose rights were suppressed.

Lawyer Alan Weinblatt was contacted about the voting discrepancy Tuesday afternoon. He said students couldn’t register because their utility fees were charged to Melrose apartments instead of billed directly to students from the utility company.

The issue was brought to the attention of Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, he said, but Kiffmeyer decided the utility bill was improper verification.

First-year mechanical engineering student Greg Shaffer, who lives in Melrose, said he was initially turned away from voting, but an apartment manager vouched for his residency.

Shaffer said he went to the Hennepin County District Court and presented the petition to the judge, who overruled Kiffmeyer’s interpretation of the law.

Although the decision was ultimately positive, Shaffer said many of the effected students did not learn about the ruling until after 4 p.m.

“Anyone after that time could go ahead and vote,” he said.

In addition, the polling hours at Pratt Community School were extended an extra hour to accommodate previously inconvenienced students, Weinblatt said.

Lois Willand, who was working at the polls at the school, said most of the 399 new registrants yesterday were students.

Willand said political party representatives watching for polling problems made sure students had the proper identification for registration while they were waiting to vote.

“They were really the good guys yesterday,” she said.

Willand said her location only received six voters after the extended polling times.

The extra hour “didn’t really do much good,” she said.

Noah Seligman of the UDFL said Kiffmeyer is directly responsible for refusing students the right to vote.

“Her job was to oversee elections and make sure they were handled in a professional, legal and efficient manner, and she failed that duty,” he said.

Kiffmeyer’s communication director Kent Kaiser said Melrose residents tried to use a document that wasn’t allowed by law.

Kaiser said the decision to allow students to use their bills was great.

“The more, the merrier,” he said.

Although DFL officials said the incident was voter supression by Kiffmeyer, Weinblatt said he wasn’t sure her intial decision had an ulterior motive.

“It wasn’t a Republican or Democrat dispute,” he said.