A blog to keep current on MPIRG'S fight for social and environmental justice.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mark Ritchie, Pants Sharing & Why You Are Going to Vote

Mark Ritchie, the Secretary of State, was at Augsburg recently to talk about our democracy. He spoke about the importance of voting and the pride we as Minnesotans take in our election system. Minnesota has the highest voter turnout in the country, 5% higher than the next state. We’re pretty awesome like that. But Ritchie encouraged us to do better, “We’re number one in the nation [in voter turnout]. We should take great pride in that… but we can do better”. And we can. Even though we’re awesome, in the last presidential election one MILLION eligible Minnesotan voters did not vote.

Now I don’t want anyone to use this as an excuse. It would probably kill me if I heard someone say “if one million Minnesotans don’t vote, I don’t have to either”. No. Go vote, seriously. I’ll tell you why. As cliché as it may be, many people fought long and hard for your right to vote. You may have heard of this thing called Women’s Suffrage or the long battle to enact what is now our 15th amendment.

Mark Ritchie told a story of voters in Minnesota, when there was a law stating that Native American men who owned property could vote if they wore pants. Literally. Voting was so important to these men that they had a communal pair of pants outside the polling station. One would put them on, go in and vote, and then return the pants for the next person to wear. We have it pretty easy today.

Pants aside, you probably already knew about the fight for the right to vote. What you may not think about is how much work our government has put into the system to allow you to vote. Minnesota was the first state to enact same day registration which results in a 7-9% increase in voter turnout each election. We put in place absentee balloting after there was a blizzard on Election Day and people who lived nearly 80 miles away from the polling place couldn’t vote. We made polling places handicap accessible for those with physical disabilities. We were the first state to approve an amendment to our constitution making the legal voting age 18, not 21, so that people like YOU could vote. People fought long and hard to gain the right to vote, we worked long and hard to perfect our voting system, and yet too many people are too lazy to go use this amazing right granted to us.

Our election system, as great as it may be, is under attack. The Voter ID amendment will set our right to vote back yet again. And guess who’s fighting for our right to vote this time? The mind-blowingly epic students of MPIRG. Years later, someone may be writing something exactly like this, talking about how WE fought for our election system, and that’s what energizes me to organize. Vote No, keep our election system remarkable and protect our right to vote.

But the only way to help protect our election system and our rights is to GET OUT AND VOTE. People have fought, people have shared pants, and we’re fighting again now.  Not only will we, will YOU, be choosing the next president of the United States, but you will also be deciding the fate of two very important constitutional amendments, the Marriage and the Voter ID amendment. That’s why you’re going to get out and vote this November 6th.  Do it for those who battled for our right, and who continue to battle today.

BreAnna Bemboom, Augsburg MPIRG State Board Rep

pictured: 'I Will Vote' temporary tattoos, from Augsburg's National Voter Registration Table

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