Despite historically low turnout, students’ voices could make the difference

Students could be the deciding factor in many of Minnesota’s competitive midterm elections

Grant Zastoupil sends his absentee ballot on Friday, Oct. 12 in Dinkytown. Zastoupil, a fourth-year student from Fargo, is voting in North Dakota for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. “My vote would physically mean more in North Dakota,” Zastoupil said. “I felt confident enough that the district would be blue and stay blue that I felt my vote was more needed in North Dakota.”

Tony Saunders

Grant Zastoupil sends his absentee ballot on Friday, Oct. 12 in Dinkytown. Zastoupil, a fourth-year student from Fargo, is voting in North Dakota for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. “My vote would physically mean more in North Dakota,” Zastoupil said. “I felt confident enough that the district would be blue and stay blue that I felt my vote was more needed in North Dakota.”

Austen Macalus

University of Minnesota students could be the difference in many of Minnesota’s close races during midterms. 

Despite low turnout rates, political experts and student activists agree that student turnout could play a major role in several close races across Minnesota. 

“The youth vote will make that difference,” said Larry Jacobs, the director of the University’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.  “If youth turn out, they could very well swing these districts.” 

Since 2012, University of Minnesota students have turned-out in presidential and midterm elections at higher rates than students at colleges and universities across the country, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, which surveyed more in 1,000 schools.

Yet turnout at the University remains consistently lower than Minnesota’s general population.

In the past two midterms in Minnesota, turnout among 18-24 year-olds was significantly lower — over 30 percentage points — than the general population, even in a state with one of the highest turnout rates in the country. 

Highly competitive races usually result in higher turnout, but midterm turnout rates don’t typically differ too much, said David Nickerson, a professor at Temple University who studies voter turnout.  

“What will differ is who turns out to vote,” Nickerson said.

Christina Laridaen, a second-year student at the University, headed-up efforts by the Minnesota Student Association, the University’s undergraduate student government, to register  voters on campus. 

 Laridaen said she has seen increased energy and awareness about the midterms among students she’s talked to.

 “This year, more than usual, students are definitely aware of the races taking place here in Minneapolis and the races that are taking place back home,” Laridaen said. “Students are really starting to realize that sitting out isn’t really an option anymore.”

Jacobs said high turnout among college students would boost Democrats’ chances in Minnesota. Democrats need to flip 23 seats to gain control of  Congress. 

“It’s hard for any politician to count on the youth vote because it’s been such an unreliable presence in the past,” Jacobs said.

He said lawmakers often ignore students because a majority of young people don’t vote. 

Jacobs said students have a straightforward choice: “If you show up, you’re listened to. If you sit out, you’re ignored.”