Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon delivered a presentation on voting at the Memorial Library last Tuesday.
“This is an ideal time to talk about some of the new tools in the toolbox in Minnesota. First, because they’re new. Second, because we have local elections coming up in a few days and a giant, attention-grabbing election coming up next year. So, this is a good time to let people know what the new rules are,” he said.
Simon said the role of the office of the Secretary of State is to knit together the various voting systems administered by local governments. Furthermore, the office also sets the guidelines for how the voting system functions in order to make elections fair.
“We don’t ever count votes. We don’t ever lay a finger on anybody’s ballot. That all happens at the local level,” Simon said.
Simon said Minnesota has had a consistent history of high voter turnout. In three out of the last four elections, Minnesota had the highest turnout in the nation. Simon said one major contributing factor is that Minnesota allows voter registration on election day rather than only in advance. Another is that Minnesota makes it easy to vote from home, which was key during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Simon said Minnesota has restored voting freedom to former felons. The reasoning is, if a judge or jury believes a person is safe enough to be part of the community, that person should also have a right to vote on who governs over them.
“With a stroke of a pen 55,000 Minnesotans suddenly got their freedom to vote restored,” Simon said.
Minnesota has also incorporated a new Automatic Voter Registration system. For decades, Minnesota has had a Motor Voter Law that gives a person the option of registering to vote at the same time as getting a driver’s license. With the Automatic Voter Registration, one is already registered for voting when one gets their driver’s license but can opt out at any time.
“The very same information that you provide to get your driver’s license is the very same information that you need to register to vote,” Simon said.
Simon said Minnesota is now also providing pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. This allows teens to get in the mindset of voting before they are even old enough to vote. According to Simon, studies show that those who vote at an early age tend to make it a lifelong habit.
Simon said in Minnesota college students are allowed to vote according to the address of their current residency but cannot vote both at their permanent address and current address. He addressed some of the excuses that college students make for not voting. He pointed out that ballot fatigue, which is feeling overwhelmed by the number of candidates, is not a reason not to vote. It is better to vote for the few people that one knows rather than not voting because one has not done the research on every candidate.
Many students believe their vote does not make a difference in election outcomes.
“Every year that I have had this job as secretary of state, we’ve had at least one election in Minnesota that was either tied or decided by one vote,” Simon said.
Simon pointed out that not voting for a candidate is doubling the vote of someone who disagrees with that candidate.
“Some people even go as far as to say that they are making a statement by not voting,” he said. “The best rebuttal to that comes in the form of a line that I saw on a T-shirt a few years ago. The T-shirt said failure to vote is not an act of rebellion. It’s an act of surrender.”
Simon said election judges are in high demand for Election Day. At least 30,000 people are needed to fill this position, and election judges can be as young as 16 years of age.
“An election judge is a paid position. Even the two hours of mandatory training is paid. It is also required by Minnesota law that your employer or your school has to let you off that day,” Simon said. “It’s a long day, not going to lie to you. Polls in Minnesota are open for 13 hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., but you are going to be well-paid and make some money.”
After the presentation, Freshman Calvin Smith and Sophomore Damaris De La Torre provided their perspectives on it. Smith, an international relations and ecology major, heard about the presentation from a meeting during his duties as a community council member. De La Torre, an elementary education major, heard about the presentation from a staff member of the student newspaper.
“I thought it would be cool to see the secretary of state and hear what he had to say,” Calvin said. “I didn’t know some of the laws that Minnesota had because I am an out-of-state student, and I didn’t know how good of a voter turnout Minnesota had.”
“I learned a lot about Minnesota and their overall picture of the voting system. Since I’m from Ecuador, I didn’t know how voting worked in Minnesota,” De La Torre said. “I really appreciated it when he mentioned the reasons why college students do not want to vote. I also thought it was interesting what he said about people who fail to vote are not making a statement of rebellion but surrender.”
Calvin, a registered voter in Illinois, and De La Torre, a registered voter in Ecuador, have both voted before and intend to continue voting regularly in the future.
Header photo: Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon delivered a presentation on voting at the Memorial Library last Tuesday. (Dominic Bothe/The Reporter)
Write to Tracy Swartzendruber at firstname.lastname@example.org