St. Peter Herald: Simon says: ‘Our vote is our voice'
By Dana Melius, 2/22/16
Hoping to engage college students in the 2016 elections, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon joined a Gustavus Adolphus College class Thursday in St. Peter and encouraged students to get involved.
With the March 1 precinct caucuses closing in, Simon met with students from Gustavus professor Jill Locke’s “Feminist Political Thought” class. Of the 19 class members, 13 indicated they plan to participate in Minnesota’s caucus system. But there were plenty of questions.
“Our vote is our voice,” said Simon, elected to his first term as Minnesota Secretary of State in 2014. He had previously served five terms in the state House of Representatives.
“All roads lead to the ballot box,” he stressed.
While Simon talked about the more traditional barriers to getting to the polls and voting – transportation, residency questions, language – the top state elections official emphasized a more concerning reason voters don’t exercise their right.
“A whole another species of barriers? I’m talking about barriers of attitude,” said Simon. And he’s hoping to dispel young voter concerns over a political system many think is dysfunctional, corrupt or ruled by corporate or big money campaign contributions.
“If you don’t get at something much more fundamental, if you just don’t want to vote…” Simon noted. “Failure to vote is not an act of protest; it’s an act of surrender.”
But Simon also noted an increase in attention to young voters, as well as growing interest from students in the 2016 elections.
“You’re going to get plenty of attention,” he said. “You probably already have.”
Simon’s state office is also spending increased efforts at encouraging young voters to register and participate in the upcoming precinct caucuses, Minnesota’s first step at potential involvement in becoming a delegate to the state and national political conventions.
“It’s more of a community meeting,” Simon noted. “It’s more grassroots (than a primary). That begins the process of electing delegates to the national convention.”
Simon noted that an estimated 800,000 Minnesotans eligible to vote are not currently registered, many of them potential first-time election participants. He’s hoping to launch a new initiative soon – call it a Minnesota Ballot Bowl – in which state college campuses are challenged to register as many students as possible. Also, the Secretary of State’s office plans to mail out 100,000 postcards to new voters.
Gustavus student Megan Klapperich of Faribault was surprised to know she could vote in St. Peter, rather than having to drive the 40-mile trek back home. Simon said college students may vote at either their college residence or permanent home precinct.
“I’ve liked driven home to vote,” Klapperich said. “I really wasn’t aware of being able to do that.”
For Olivia Alm-Brillantes, a Gustavus student from Gothenburg, Sweden, she questioned the American Electoral College process and whether it discouraged individuals from casting their votes.
“My friend said there’s no point in voting,” she said, since the Electoral College vote ultimately determines the United States presidential victory, not the popular vote.
But Simon noted the Electoral College only comes into play in the presidential process. And the 2016 election will have many local, state and judicial positions on the ballot. While Simon acknowledged that the extensive judicial ballot can at times intimidate voters, he continued to stress the importance of participating.
“My personal view is you should just vote for those positions that you’re familiar with,” he said.
In Minnesota, Simon stressed, same-day election registration and the now “no excuse” absentee balloting process provides easy access to the ballot box and prompts strong voter turnout in the state.
“Be a voter,” Simon stressed. “At the end of the day, our vote is our voice.”