Civic Engagement Vital to Voting Rights

By Will Howell

You donƒ?TMt know Representative Dan Severson (R), and he doesnƒ?TMt know you. But he doesnƒ?TMt want you to vote in Minnesota.House File 686, which he introduced on Feb. 3, would strip college students living on campuses of their right to vote. The bill says that ƒ?oe[a] student does not acquire residence in the precinct where the studentƒ?TMs dormitoryƒ?Ýis located unless there is evidence that theƒ?Ýhousing will beƒ?Ýpermanent.ƒ??

I cannot possibly think of a scenario in which I live permanently in a dorm, and I would assume that many others feel the same way. So that means we would not be able to vote.

But before he singles-out college students, he makes a more general statement about voting residency: ƒ?oeAn individual does not acquire a residence in any precinct of this state if the individual is living there only temporarily, without the intention of making that precinct home.ƒ??

Which begs the question: what is permanent housing, exactly? It could be interpreted to exclude any one who does not stay in any one building for too longƒ?”anyone who does not establish a niche in a local community.

And that seems to be the rationale behind the bill: stop people who have not demonstrated investment or participation in the system from voting. (I asked Representative Severson to comment on his reasons for introducing the bill, but he did not return my e-mail or call.) As a social group, young people tend to move a lot, and, whatever the reasonƒ?”time, energy, frustration with current political trendsƒ?”we donƒ?TMt invest very much of ourselves in our government.

And yet we demand so much. We need a stable economy so we can be employed. We need student loans to help us obtain education. We need healthcare coverage, cheap housing, good public transportation. We want a clean environment and beautiful public spaces.

But we donƒ?TMt participate civically.

So while my first desire is to get mad, huff and puff and demand an explanation of why our voting rights are being threatened, I can understand Representative Seversonƒ?TMs motivation. Itƒ?TMs still dead wrong, but I can understand his motivation.

Itƒ?TMs a philosophy I heard applied quite frequently after George Bush won reelection last year. In his Prairie Home Companion broadcast following the election, Garrison Keillor joked that he didnƒ?TMt think evangelical Christians should be allowed to vote because their citizenship was in heaven. Around campus, I heard numerous complaints or jokes directed at the uninformed voters who chose the president.

Any of us who thought that way were thinking just like Representative Severson. We saw a group who made a decision which affected us all without fully informing themselves, without being involved in the issues, and we posited that they should not be allowed to vote. Unlike Representative Severson, we had no plans to pursue the disenfranchisement of these voters.

So Mac, letƒ?TMs show Representative Severson that his attack on college voting is misdirected. Letƒ?TMs show him that we care about the issues affecting this city, this state, and this country, that we are informing ourselves and participating in our government. Letƒ?TMs take a stand against this bill with the knowledge and activism for which Macalester is famous.

Contact Will Howell ƒ?TM08 at [email protected]