On Tuesday, Nov. 8, students were greeted on campus with side walk chalk messages, yard signs and even a handshake with congressional candidate Angie Craig, all asking students to do one thing: vote.
Students who live on campus – within Ward 4, Precinct 2 (W4, P2) – cast their ballots in the Black and Gold Ballrooms in Buntrock Commons. Minnesota offers same-day voter registration and it couldn’t have been easier for students. All they needed was their St. Olaf ID.
David Anderson returned as St. Olaf’s head election judge. Anderson has been an election judge since 2002 and was assigned to St. Olaf in 2010. This is his fourth election on campus. Despite a rocky set-up, voting began on schedule at 7 a.m.
“We had a problem that the doors weren’t opened … so at seven o’clock we were still counting ballots and doing things that we shouldn’t be doing at that time when we opened, so it was kind of chaotic,” Anderson said. “But, we got it open.”
Anderson was optimistic about student turnout. Mid-afternoon, students had already casted 900 votes. In the end, the total for W4, P2 rose to 1,094 ballots. Despite the promising turnout rate, Anderson hopes to see more students engage in the electoral process, particularly during the midterms.
“What I’d like to see is in the off years, will we have 300 [students]?” Anderson said. “A lot of people think that if it’s not presidential it’s not important, but congressional is very important. The House controls the budget. The Senate confirms judges. The House and the Senate make the laws and the president only signs them or vetoes them. So if you don’t vote in the off years you’re not getting represented in the years that the House and Senate are being elected.”
For months leading up to Nov. 8, the St. Olaf Political Awareness Committee (PAC) encouraged students to turn out and vote. They organized debate watch parties, helped students register in Minnesota and conducted a straw poll to gauge who St. Olaf students were planning to cast their ballot for.
“We had a small election subcommittee formed at the beginning of the semester who’s in charge of planning three substantial events for voter registration and voter awareness,” PAC Coordinator Eden Fauré ’17 said.
Though voting in Buntrock is convenient for students, it comes with complications. According to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, “No one can campaign inside the polling place or within 100 feet of the building. If the polling place is on public property, no one can campaign anywhere on the property, even beyond 100 feet.”
Buntrock Commons is St. Olaf’s student center, so in order to regulate campaign materials, worn and otherwise, PAC recruited a number of “election helpers” who were posted throughout Buntrock to help students find the ballot booths and to ensure that no one was campaigning in or around the building.
Professor of Art and Associate Dean of Fine Arts Mary Griep was one of the election helpers and enjoyed seeing students out and voting.
“It’s really fun to see everybody, there’s lots and lots of stickers,” Griep said. “I think people are a little on edge, it will be good when it’s done.”
And soon it was. At 8 p.m. polls closed in Minnesota and the election judges left in the ballrooms began counting open ballots, roster signatures, and registration forms – a process that requires great attention to detail with little rest for the election judges.
“We have to count everything except ‘I voted’ buttons,” Anderson said. “The whole problem with that is, if you’ve been here the whole time, you started at seven in the morning, probably got up at 4:30 or 5 [a.m.], it’s now 10 o’clock, you pull together these numbers and you’re off by three. That’s not acceptable, so you have to count over again.”
In W2, P4, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine won 82.18 percent of the vote, while Donald Trump and Mike Pence took 10.33 percent.
PAC hosted a watch party in the Lion’s Pause for students to gather and wait for the election returns. By about 11:30 p.m., it was clear that Republican nominee Donald Trump had the presidency locked up.
To say that students were shocked by the results is an understatement. Almost all national polls – including poll aggregator Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, a student favorite – predicted Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to win by a wide margin. Fauré noticed a shift in mood in the Pause after key swing states began to turn red.
“The trend is usually that those middle states go red and some of the southern states go red, and so initially, people who are rooting for Hillary [Clinton] weren’t worried because it was going the way it was supposed to, but once Florida started to go red, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin … those are all key states that went red and a lot of them have been historically blue and that’s when people were just in shock,” she said.
While the Trump campaign and his supporters celebrated their victory, the left-leaning side of campus began to put the pieces back together. Student organizations have been reaching out to campus to lend a shoulder for their peers to lean on.
On Wednesday, Nov. 9, The Diversity Awareness House hosted a “Family Connection” gathering for people of color, where they could come together at the house, react to the election and show support for one another. Students also organized a non-denominational prayer service in Boe Chapel, SARN hosted a support group for sexual assault survivors at Wendell Berry House and Margaret Jacobson ’17 organized a rally called “Speak Out for Change” for Thursday, Nov. 10, where students could gather in the Buntrock Commons Crossroads to share their thoughts on the election and speak about how to move forward.