Voters league aims to increase student involvement

Chris Vetter

Colleges are not known to have high voter turnout, but the League of Women Voters hopes to change that.
The league, a nonpartisan organization, started a chapter at the University a year ago and hopes to improve student participation in the November general election.
Before spring quarter ended, the group named Jennifer Halko its chairwoman for the 1996-97 school year. Halko, a College of Liberal Arts junior who ran for Minnesota Student Association president this spring, has several ideas about improving voter registration on campus this year.
“We are getting voter registration into the Gopher Guide,” Halko said, “so all students will get them at registration.”
Halko also said the league will have tables at new student orientations in the fall. The group also plans to hold a rock concert to “get out the vote” before this year’s election.
The University chapter also plans to increase its membership. Last year it had eight to 10 active members.
“Recruitment is the biggest thing,” Halko said. “Our chapter has the possibility to bring a lot of young voters to campus.”
Halko said the fact that this is a general election will help increase the group’s membership. “This is a great year to do this,” she said. This year, ballots will include candidates for president, Congress and the Minnesota Legislature.
Kathy Kolb, president of the Minneapolis League of Women Voters, said it is important to have a group on campus.
“The best place to start membership is with young women,” Kolb said.
Kolb said the Minneapolis league will help organize candidate forums and debates for the University chapter.
The University chapter was founded by two University students, Renee Plato and Willow Najjar. Plato, a 1996 graduate, said the group benefits younger women.
“I wanted to open it up to a younger audience to get a better viewpoint of today’s issues,” Plato said.
Plato said league members have brought in high-profile people from the University community to speak at their monthly meetings. Regent Jean Keffeler and Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who represents the University area in the Minnesota House of Representatives, have both spoken at league meetings.
“I’m a strong supporter of League of Women Voters,” Kahn said, adding that she has worked to bring equality to women in political organizations.
Halko said it is important to bring prominent women to campus to show University students that female role models in politics do exist.
The League of Women Voters was established in 1920, the same year the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. Men can also join the organization.
Kolb said Minnesota laws make it very easy for citizens to vote.
“Minnesota has always been a progressive state,” Kolb said. “It is very easy to vote and register.”
The league’s membership cost is $45 dollars a year, but Halko said the group plans to hold fund-raisers to pay membership dues for people in the University chapter.
Halko has been involved in University politics during the last year. Her MSA campaign with running mate Carl Aakre was endorsed by Students Against Fee Excess, a conservative group on campus. Halko worked in Republican Sen. Rod Grams’ office in Washington, D.C., last fall, and she is the treasurer for the College Republicans.
Plato said Halko has “a well-articulated sense of working with people. She understands higher education. She is very up-to-date on University issues.”
The group will hold monthly meetings beginning this fall.