Road trips and canvassing: UMN students got creative to make their voices heard

Some students tried to vote where it would count most, contributing to what is shaping up to be a year of record youth voter turnout.


Image by Parker Johnson

A voter waits in line to cast their ballot outside Marcy Open Elementary School on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

by Samantha Hendrickson and Jasmine Snow

When University of Minnesota student Mandy Billups found out her mail-in ballot had not arrived in her home state of Colorado, she was more than disappointed.

She described herself as “that person” on social media, reminding everyone to vote in the 2020 presidential election, and had sent in her ballot in mid-September. Despite this, her vote would not be counted in time.

Billups expressed her frustration to her friend and fellow second-year student Katherine Chicoine, who happened to have a car. As it turned out, she was willing to drive the 13-hour trip, one way, with Billups to help her vote.

But Billups and Chicoine are not the only University students who had to get creative to make their voices heard in the 2020 elections.

Spontaneous road trips and other voting strategies

Billups and Chicoine left the Twin Cities at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2 and drove all night to Billups’ family house in Colorado. When they arrived the next morning on Election Day, Billups’ mother was ready for them with a very patriotic breakfast of fruit and yogurt shaped into an American flag.

“Voting is so important because of all the people who have fought for our ability to vote,” Billups said. “I also think our generation desperately needs to make our voices heard because it’s our future more than anyone else’s.”

Chicoine, who is originally from South Dakota, registered in Minnesota as soon as she could after moving back to the Twin Cities for the semester.

“I knew South Dakota would be red,” Chicoine said. “And Minnesota is technically a swing state, so I wanted to make sure my vote counted here.”

Chicoine voted for now president-elect Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election despite having a mainly Trump-supporting family. According to Chicoine, her father was not too happy about the road trip so Billups could also cast her vote for Biden, but that did not stop Chicoine.

“When you see your friend sad, you’d do anything to make them feel better,” she said.

Chicoine and Billups were among a wave of youth voter turnout this year. More than 50% of eligible people under the age of 30 voted in the 2020 election, according to estimates from Tufts’ CIRCLE, a research organization focused on youth civic engagement. The youth vote — particularly that of young women of color — was crucial to Biden’s win, especially in Midwest states, according to the estimates.

While official data will not be made available on specific voting patterns of University student voters for quite some time, University advocacy coordinator Mike Miller estimates that 2020 could be a record turnout year for Minnesota youth voters in particular. He said while past youth turnout percentages in Minnesota have hovered around the 30s, youth turnout has increased to more than 59% since 2016.

“This cohort of students are the strongest, bravest, kindest people I’ve ever met,” Miller said. “If you think these students aren’t voting, if you think they’re not expressing themselves and making their voice heard, you’re gonna get blindsided in the election. This is an electoral bloc that needs to be paid attention to.”
A record 65 million ballots were cast via mail this election, according to the Pew Research Center. This is nearly double the 33.5 million mail-in ballots received in 2016.

First-year student Novy O’Connell voted by mail in her first election, sending her ballot to her home in Washington County, Wisconsin.

While she does not agree with the electoral college as a whole, she still took the system into consideration when she kept her vote in her home state.

“It’s a very outdated system,” O’Connell said, “but if you have the opportunity to vote where your voice is more powerful, you should do it.”

No vote, no voice?

This year saw record voter turnout, both locally and nationally. However, not all University students were able to show up for the election in the same way.

“I care about a lot, like public health, being pre-med and LGBTQ rights, as someone who belongs to that community,” fourth-year human development major Theodore Marghitu said. “But it’s hard because I’m not a citizen — I can’t vote.”

Due to his refugee status, fourth-year sociology and political science major Juan Mantilla could not vote either. However, he worked alongside UMN Students for Biden to canvas on election day, which he said was a valuable way to inspire people despite his inability to vote.

“This election is really important to me because as I watch my fellow Latinos locked up in cages, that really affects me on a very personal level,” he said. “Even though I personally can’t vote, [canvassing is] just another way for me to be able to know that I’m inspiring people to go and use their voice.”