If student turnout at the polls is historically low, then primary turnout is historically awful. But one race on the ballot is shaping up to be a major draw for students.
This year, perhaps due to the local and national spotlight on the 5th Congressional District race, voter turnout during the primary skyrocketed at campus precincts.
Three main precincts draw student voters from around the University. Students who live in Comstock and Yudof halls vote at Coffman Union, students who live in the superblock vote at Grace University Lutheran Church and students on the West Bank vote at Seward Towers East.
These three precincts typically have a very low turnout for any election, especially primaries. In the 2005 primary, 17 voters cast ballots at Coffman Union. This year, 119 voters showed up, according to documents from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office.
In recent years, Democrats, Republicans and third parties have increased efforts on campuses across the nation to bring students to the polls. This year, however, a high-profile race between a handful of Democrats running for the 5th District DFL ticket brought a lot of attention to the primaries.
According to a press release by standupnow.mn, a Democratic voter mobilization organization, volunteers made 396 calls and 2,200 “face-to-face contacts” with potential voters in the week leading up to the primary.
Keith Ellison’s campaign for the 5th District also played a major role in bringing voters to the primary.
Dave Colling, Ellison’s campaign manager, said volunteers knew there was only a week between the start of school and the primary, so they passed out flyers and knocked on doors in dorms and campus neighborhoods. Ellison even made a few personal appearances to meet with students.
“Students are one of the top (demographics) on our list,” Colling said. “We know they’re there and they will vote if we can get them out.”
Secretary of state spokesman Kent Kaiser said election officials discovered many Minneapolis voters voted exclusively for the 5th District race and ignored the others in the primary, including senate and gubernatorial races.
To get statistics out faster, Kaiser said, local election officials initially track voter turnout of only a major race. After totaling votes for every race, officials discovered the votes for the 5th District race greatly outnumbered the voter turnout estimate.
“The key race, i.e. the Senate race, had fewer voters than the congressional district race,” he said.
Political science senior Ryan Mattson serves as senior vice chairman of the College Republicans. He said this year’s elections are drawing students because many races are tight and because of 5th District congressional candidate Alan Fine’s campus ties. He said many students are energized by the Republican’s candidacy, and student volunteers are busy registering voters and rallying behind the candidates.
Fine said in a previous interview that the college-age vote is important to him. Along with his parents and four of his brothers, Fine attended the University. He now teaches at the Carlson School of Management.
Students need to vote, he said, because issues like tuition, health care and research affect them, too.
But the 5th District isn’t the only high-profile race this year, Mattson said.
“The Senate and governor races are so close that people know they could sway either way,” he said. “So that’s what makes people get involved a lot more.”
The Independence Party is carving out a spot on campus, too. Tammy Lee, the Independence Party member running in the 5th District, said college students don’t always follow in their parent’s political footsteps and often identify with the Independence Party.
She said her campaign crew is teaming with the College Independents Club and will be at the homecoming parade in November to help spread her name and campaign issues on campus.
“For students sober enough to remember, I will be there,” she said.