“In 2008, six million Americans did not vote because they missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register”, states the National Voter Registration Day website.
Your first thought upon reading this might have been something like this: “Holy cannoli that’s a lot of people, and how can we civic organizers reach them this time around?”
Today, September 25, is National Voter Registration Day. This means that media, field volunteers, celebrities, and organizations from across the U.S. will be engaging in a single day of coordinated efforts to raise awareness of registration opportunities for tens of thousands of voters who otherwise could not be reached.
MPIRG is one of many crucial participants making those community connections. The key facet of MPIRG that makes us such important contributors? Students.
Should students maximize their efforts to help Get Out the Vote (GOTV) today, or will National Voter Registration Day be an unsuccessful application of resources towards an ultimately disappointing national effort? Nobody likes tabling and clip-boarding for a lost cause, so let’s reinforce why nationally coordinated voter registration efforts are useful and successful:
• At 68% Minnesota had the highest percentage of youth voter turnout in the 2008 election (go us!), many of whom are no longer considered youth voters.
• This means: It’s time to re-recruit the young’uns!
• This also means: There are a fair share of elderly individuals who are, for a variety of reasons, not getting out to the polls, and we can help change that.
• Grassroots networking by local organizations (such as MPIRG) within their communities, especially within communities otherwise underrepresented in the voting pool, will educate a diverse pool of eligible voters about registration -- a task we as well-educated and generally well-connected students are well-equipped to fill.
• This means: that not only now, but also when it’s time to re-register, a higher percentage of voters will be from diverse economic, ethnic, religious, etc. backgrounds.
• This also means: individuals who are multiculturally competent (e.g. many students are second-generation bilingual Americans) will help Americans who may not yet be familiar with the voting process, such as newer immigrants, feel less constrained by linguistic and cultural barriers to voting
• Concerted use of technology and voter registration information handouts by volunteers will bring new individuals into the pool of registered voters by providing the support they need to get to a polling station -- again a task in whose completion students are instrumental.
• This means: we will collectively create an opportunity for intercultural community outreach and connection-building by extending awareness of how all individuals can exercise their fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution.
• This also means: more volunteers! More citizens will be empowered to volunteer when they feel confident that they know how to register themselves.
• A higher average level of awareness and education (with respect to all social justice issues, really) will allow more new voters in this election to educate their friends, relatives, and associates to GOTV, increasing overall participation in the electoral process.
• ALL of these benefits contribute to an increase in overall diversity of voter opinion due to diversity of background and experience, which is necessary to elect officials whose decisions will be representative of as many Americans as possible.
As students it is vital to consider our role within the political system that was built for us, and into which we were interpolated as we achieved the designated age of voter eligibility. Though we should be proud of our role as young activists in continually supporting the political voices and achievements of traditionally underrepresented Americans, our voices are often assumed to be absent at the polls, and many in power are still often do not speak well for those silenced in the political process.
Part of the solution is to help those underrepresented individuals get out to the polls, because though youth are assumed to be underrepresented, we clearly have a loud voice in MN if we clock in at 68% of active voters. As stated by former MN member of the House of Representatives Matt Entenza at the MorrisPIRG kickoff event, decision makers are “counting on [students] not to show up” when they make decisions that adversely affect us. Let’s show up!
Our most important legal right, one might argue, is the right to use our political voice through voting to influence what type of country, democracy, state, and community we live in. Those in power know we have a voice, but they don’t count on it being very loud. On the one hand, we as U.S. students are provided with rights, privileges, and freedoms that can empower us. On the other hand, some of those rights are periodically threatened, and we feel a righteous anger. Yet because many young Americans are inexperienced voters who also feel entitled to privileges and freedoms that are not legal/civic rights, those in power (of all affiliations) do not always trust us to make the distinction that our ability to vote is such a critically important right.
Let’s not unintentionally provide our legal opposition with another “reason” why young persons will be absent at the polls -- let’s GTFO into our communities and GOTV so those who want to restrict Minnesotan’s rights and freedoms hear our many diverse voices telling them “NO”.
Andreana Saunders, University of Minnesota - Morris