Upcoming election fuels registration frenzy

Students face dilemma of where and how to cast votes

All of the political babble on campus may be making some students’ heads spin as they wonder where to vote, when to vote and how to do it. On Thursday, Sept. 20, St. Olaf’s Political Awareness Committee PAC hosted a voter registration workshop to address some of these concerns.

The most commonly raised concern at the workshop was whether to vote on campus or by absentee ballot. Many students felt strongly about voting in their home states because of contentious local elections and legislation. However, other students will opt to vote in Northfield, in large part due to the two proposed constitutional amendments that will be on the ballot on Nov. 6.

Perhaps the greatest advantage to voting on campus is students’ ability to cast their votes on the Minnesota Same-Sex Marriage Amendment, which would make same-sex marriage unconstitutional, and the Minnesota Voter Identification Amendment, which would require all voters to show photo identification. Both may act as incentives for some students to vote on campus rather than by absentee ballots.

New Oles may not want to vote in Northfield because they feel more at home in their own communities. However, Kevin Dahle, the incumbent Minnesota senator, spoke at the event to encourage students to vote locally in Northfield.

“You have just as much right to vote in Northfield as anyone,” Dahle said. “You are vital parts of our community . . . Your vote really matters.”

David Bly, a candidate for the Minnesota House of Representatives, also spoke at the event.

“We, as a community, need to hear from you,” Bly said. He also stressed the importance of voting against the Minnesota Voter Identification Amendment. “Keeping same-day voter registration may make the difference between someone voting and not voting,” Bly said.

Since our country does not have direct voting representation, the candidate who wins the popular vote in each state will take home all of the electoral delegates for that state. While Minnesota is currently projected as a moderate Democratic hold for President Obama, students from states such as New York and California whose voters are projected to vote overwhelmingly for Obama or Utah and Wyoming which are projected to be swept by presidential challenger Mitt Romney may choose to vote in Northfield since their votes will bear more weight in moderate Minnesota. So, while Minnesota is not a “swing state,” it may make sense for students to vote in Minnesota if their home state is projected to vote overwhelmingly in favor of either Obama or Romney.

If that was not enough to convince students, speakers stressed that voting on campus could not be easier. Most students except those living in honor houses and off-campus will vote right here in Buntrock. And for students who are first-time voters, pulling the lever down in the vestibule is an exciting rite of passage.

In some cases, it makes strategic sense for students to vote by absentee ballot. For example, if a student is from Pennsylvania, Ohio or Florida which are considered the three most influential swing states it may make sense for them to vote in their home states, where neither Obama nor Romney has an insurmountable lead in the polls.

If a student chooses to vote by absentee ballot, the process is very simple. The presenters of the workshop suggested that students log on to absenteeballot.com, select their home state and follow the instructions listed on the page. Absentee procedures vary state by state, and some require that voters request a ballot during a specific window of time, while others require voters to request a ballot directly through their home counties.

Regardless of a state’s policies, a voter must be registered in his or her home state before requesting an absentee ballot. Students who are planning to vote absentee are encouraged to be proactive and begin doing their research as soon as possible.

The only requirement for voting on campus is being a Minnesota state resident for 20 days, and most Oles fall into that category. While it is not necessary to provide photo identification, voters should know the last four digits of their social security numbers. Students are eligible to register the day of the election, but are highly advised to pre-register in the weeks leading up to Nov. 6.

As Sen. Dahle informed attendees of the workshop, Minnesota has the highest voter turnout in the nation. Regardless of where St. Olaf students vote, Minnesota’s high level of political involvement is a model of good citizenship they can all strive for.