Reaching student voters a challenge for Minneapolis city government candidates

High renter turnover in student-dense neighborhoods often makes it difficult for candidates to track registered voters.

Women for Political Change, a UMN student group leads their mayoral forum in the Molecular Cell Biology Building on East Bank on Thursday. The group asked their own questions as well as questions tweeted in from audience members.

Courtney Deutz

Women for Political Change, a UMN student group leads their mayoral forum in the Molecular Cell Biology Building on East Bank on Thursday. The group asked their own questions as well as questions tweeted in from audience members.

Madeline Deninger

Candidates vying for Minneapolis city government positions this fall struggle to reach an often transient community: students. 

As the Nov. 7 election for the Minneapolis mayoral and city council races looms, candidates are working to familiarize themselves with the University of Minnesota’s student population. But connecting with the community can prove challenging, as student-dense neighborhoods incur rapid turnover rates among renters, causing voter registration data to be outdated. 

“We do have information, but it’s usually old registered voters because people have to change their voter registration so often,” said Laura Dorle, campaign manager for Ward 3 City Council Candidate Steve Fletcher. 

The lack of information can change the way campaigns approach student areas, Dorle said. 

“We basically just go into it the old-school way,” she said. “It’s like back in the day before we had this data and just had to go and do what we call [a] ‘blind knock,’ which is basically knock [on] every door and see if people are registered.” 

Since March 2016, Minneapolis property owners and managers are required to provide new tenants with voter registration information upon move-in. Jacob Frey, current Ward 3 city council member and mayoral candidate, authored the ordinance. 

“The goal was that, as it is when you check into a hotel you get a mint on your pillow, when you move into an apartment you get a voter registration form,” Frey said. 

Dorle said while the ordinance was crafted in good faith, many students still aren’t registered to vote. In Minnesota, an individual must be a resident of the state for at least 20 days before being able to register. 

But according to Dorle, most students don’t realize their eligibility. 

“A lot of students say they are registered out-of-state or [in] the suburbs or greater Minnesota. I think it was news to a lot of people when I said you can register at your new address,” she said. 

Ward 3 City Council Candidate Ginger Jentzen said it’s important to talk to students when door-knocking, even if the voter registration information isn’t accurate.  

“We use, like most campaigns, registered voter data, and often when we get to a door [we] ask for the person on our list and see if they still live there. If they don’t, we’ll still and try and have that conversation about what it is students are most concerned about and start from scratch,” Jentzen said.

Roughly 34 percent of voters turned out for the 2013 Minneapolis municipal elections. In Precinct 1 of Ward 3, which covers Dinkytown and part of Marcy-Holmes, only 7 percent of voters showed up. 

In order to get students more involved in the election, mayoral candidate and state Rep. Raymond Dehn said his campaign connects with students at meet-and-greet events, in addition to door-knocking and phone-banking. He said his campaign manager, former Minnesota Student Association president Joelle Stangler, has been helpful in reaching students.

“We know that we approach students differently than we would a single-family home,” Dehn said.