Efforts to boost midterm voter turnout ineffective

This November, only half of eligible Minnesotans turned out to vote.

John Thomas

Minnesota had the lowest voter turnout in 30 years during last month’s election, officials announced last week.

While voters historically turn out in lower numbers for non-presidential elections, data from the secretary of state’s office show that this year’s results are low even compared to past midterm elections.

“You have a government as a whole trying to make it easier for people to cast ballots — why is it going down?” said Larry Jacobs, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

Both parties are striving to increase voter turnout amid an especially polarized political environment, Jacobs said. Those efforts come at the same time as initiatives like no-excuse absentee balloting, introduced in Minnesota for the first time this year.

Jacobs said he’s concerned that the trend may be caused by apathy for the political process that stems from a misunderstanding of the impact of an individual vote.

When it comes to college students and other young people, Jacobs said this year’s candidates failed to effectively express the relevance of their policies to those voters.

“Seniors realize that getting out to vote really matters for Social Security and Medicare — things that they really care about,” Jacobs said. “What’s the equivalent of Social Security for young people? … It worries me that candidates seem to struggle with that.”

Drew Coveyou, communications director for the Minnesota Student Association, said he thinks most students don’t realize that their vote could affect issues like the allocation of University funding and financial aid.

While MSA saw a record number of just over 400 students registered through its annual Voterpalooza event, Coveyou said he’s not completely satisfied with that figure.

“It’s disheartening to see not as many students involved in the political process,” he said. “We’re always trying to get more students engaged.”

Jacobs said political scientists typically consider rallies like Voterpalooza useful for energizing attendees, but not particularly effective for inspiring long-term voters.

Canvassing and other forms of direct education are much more conducive to teaching the importance of voting, he said.

State Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who represents parts of the campus area, said she thinks the University itself needs to do a better job of communicating to students that voting is not just a right, but a responsibility.

“Being a responsible voter is something an educated person should understand,” she said. “You can encourage people to vote without telling them who to vote for.”