With clock ticking, students pushed to vote

Volunteers made their best attempts to rally student voters, who often avoid the polls.

Logan Wroge

In the brisk early afternoon hours of Halloween, a group of costume-clad campaigners went door-knocking — not to collect candy but to collect signatures.

The volunteers were working to persuade people to vote and tracking youth voting habits as part of an effort led by the University of Minnesota’s chapter of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, a non-partisan student organization.

In the weeks leading to Tuesday’s election, University students in several political groups went door to door to try to boost traditionally low student turnout at the polls.

“We think midterm elections ultimately affect presidential and the bigger ones,” said Alexandra Vagac, the group’s chair of the Board of Directors, “so it’s really important that students vote in all of them and are making decisions about who they want.”

Minnesota consistently has one of the highest voter turnout rates in the country. In the 2012 presidential election, which also carried two hotly contested ballot questions, about 76 percent of eligible Minnesotans went to the polls — the highest in the nation for that election.

But it seems challenging to persuade younger demographics to vote. Of Minnesotans who were between the ages of 18 and 29 in 2012, about 58 percent went to the polls, according to census data.

But some student volunteers hope to change that this election.

Political science and communication studies sophomore Samantha Beck, an MPIRG member, has spent parts of the last few months knocking on doors to raise awareness about political candidates and collect voting pledges.

MPIRG volunteers gather residents’ names and addresses to track how many students actually vote. Then they present the results to elected officials to demonstrate students’ commitment to deciding who governs them, said Magda Bilska, the group’s field canvass director.

Beck said she tries to persuade people to vote by explaining why it is important to her, what MPIRG plans to do with the signatures and where polling stations are.

But the process is not without challenges. Volunteers wait at least 30 seconds between each doorbell ring, which can draw multiple people to the door if the house has several doorbells.

“You might be talking to three different people from three different [units] at once. That’s doorbell roulette,” Beck said.

When a knock is required, Beck has developed one based off the Mario Kart theme song — a strategy she said makes the intrusion less threatening.

Other student groups have also been knocking on local doors.

Journalism and political science sophomore Anders Koskinen said he recently spent a weekend going door to door for the University’s College Republicans.

In two days, Koskinen estimated he knocked on 150 to 200 doors.

College Republicans focused their efforts on competitive races outside of the Twin Cities, Koskinen said, and encouraged voting in general, regardless of party affiliation.

When it comes to getting people to vote, knocking on doors can be more effective than television ads, which can be easily muted, he said.

“Even if they don’t agree with you, they’re going to recognize your effort and maybe take it into consideration a little more,” Koskinen said.

Members of the University’s College Democrats have been knocking on doors as well.

Jackson Fate, the group’s president, said members have mainly visited the Southeast Como and Dinkytown areas, as well as dorms.

In earlier weeks, Fate said, College Democrats informed potential voters about Minnesota’s new no-excuse absentee voting law,  which lets voters request absentee ballots regardless of whether they can get to the polls on Election Day.

The group also advocated for Democratic candidates, and like MPIRG and the College Republicans,  it simply tried to persuade students to vote.

“If you can just get someone out to vote, it’s always incredibly satisfying,” he said.

Metro Transit offers free rides on buses, light-rail lines and the Northstar commuter line on Election Day to get voters to the polls.

“Students are a large part of this area statistically, and we have a really powerful voice if we get out to the polls and cast our vote,” Vagac said.