Voting is Power coalition aids students with voter registration

Tracey Nelson

The University is pulling out all the stops.
Campus student groups have organized to provide easy access for students to vote in the Nov. 7 national election.
The Voting Is Power coalition, which expects to register 4,000 new voters, set up booths Tuesday to provide a one-stop shop for could-be voters. The main voter registration table is on the Washington Avenue Bridge’s east bank, but volunteers are scattered throughout campus, ready to register students.
Headed by the Minnesota Public Interest Group, the three-day drive ending today put forth the strongest effort in recent years to get University students to vote.
In addition, University President Mark Yudof sent an all-campus e-mail to notify students of the on-campus voting registration, and plans to send another on the upcoming U.S. Senate Speak Out. At 6 p.m. today six of the seven Senate candidates — minus incumbent Rod Grams — will answer student-posed questions.
A challenge issued by the University of Wisconsin-Madison to both the University and the University of Michigan spurred MPIRG, the Minnesota Student Association and other student groups into action.
“It is a showing of student power,” said MPIRG campus organizer Cara Saunders. “If you vote you will have power and choice in the decisions this country makes.”
The registration process takes one minute and involves filling out a form with a name, address and birth date, followed by a signature.
MPIRG is also facilitating communication with Yudof to solidify the University’s responsibility to get its students registered under the Higher Education Act of 1998, which requires institutions to provide a “best faith” effort to get its students to register.
The impact of the on-campus voter registration is unclear. Only 600 students registered the first day.
Paul Schultz, a Hamline University professor, said students must still be persuaded to get out and vote. He added that voting now is an investment in the future of student voting because candidates will then have to court potential student voters.
Schultz said the mobilization of a significant percentage of student voters can have an impact on the election outcome because so few people vote.
The 1996 presidential election saw 32 percent of eligible voters ages 18 to 24 vote. If the numbers increase to 50 percent, a significant shift in the presidential election will be felt, Schultz said. If candidates have to worry about an additional 100,000 votes influencing the election, then campaign rhetoric would change.
Schultz added that he believes the low voter turnout for college students is due to a lack of viable choices. The two major parties are not addressing student concerns such as financial aid and job opportunities, he said.
“I’m excited, but I don’t want anyone to win,” said sophomore Berta Drudis.
“We are hoping to energize democracy with this registration drive,” said MPIRG member Marnie Goodfriend.
With help from fraternities and residence hall directors, Goodfriend is still hopeful of reaching the goal of 4,000.
“Powerful change can come about as a result of voting and it is important that students realize their own power,” she said.
“I would have voted anyway but the voter registration drive made it more convenient,” said 21-year-old University senior Brandon Newberg. “I didn’t have to check out where to vote on my own.”