Confessions of a political deviant

Since about November of last year, I have been actively working on campaigns. It started with Ron Paul, moved on to Kurt Bills (who ran for Senate this year) and ultimately ended with managing the campaign of Macalester’s own Andrew Ojeda ’13. I have learned a lot since then, but I have also done things I cannot say I am proud of. Part of my work included acting as a sort of self-made youth vote expert.

I read up on some of the best means to mobilize students, how to reach out to them and, most importantly, how to get them to vote for your candidate. The best way to do that is canvassing, and working with a friend in the Bills campaign, I started doing that on college campuses as early as September.

Now, here is where it gets dicey. Canvassing and going door-to-door on campus are governed by a single state law and whatever policy a campus makes to try to comply with said law. For a campaign, it is a pain—you have to bring the actual candidate, and you are limited by the availability of campus escorts if the school opts to take advantage of their right to monitor you (in accordance with the law). For the school, it is a public safety problem; they want to monitor campaigners and make sure they don’t do anything bad in residence halls because if they do, Residence Life is probably responsible for giving them permission to canvass or door-knock. Schools are incentivized to make it as difficult as possible to canvass students in order to keep campus staff working on their jobs instead of escorting campaigners through the halls.

This is bad for engaging students; sorry, administrators, but an email and voter registration drive is not good enough to get people to the polls. This is part of the reason youth are so disengaged from politics. But campaigns are also disincentivized from following the rules. It is much easier to just sneak into dorms and canvass without the knowledge of a campus administration. That way you don’t have to deal with staff availability or finding a candidate.

So what did I do? I was not familiar with the state law, so I canvassed all over the state without permission. Saint Cloud, Saint Thomas, even Macalester once. I did it. I learned that the state law provided a way to do this within campus policies, but these campus policies purposefully made it very difficult to actually get approval to campaign in dorms. I broke the rules and kept canvassing because that’s how you win elections, Democrat or Republican. But I started feeling guilty. I knew that these unauthorized door-knocks posed a public safety risk for campuses that had no idea who was working in their halls, but I also knew that the written policies tend to be unreasonable (and in the case of Macalester before its recent policy change, illegal).

So, I changed course. I resolved to work within the system, even if it sacrificed some reasonable things. With Ojeda’s campaign, I worked with the Saint Thomas administration and the Macalester administration to get access to the dorms, to door-knock and lit drop. But it was still difficult. Nobody should be naïve, particularly these campus administrations; there are doorknockers infiltrating them. UMD, Saint Thomas, Macalester, the U of M, the list goes on and on. Their policies are helping nobody.

The weekend before Election Day, Mac Dems also did this. I was bothered by it because I had unilaterally disarmed my illicit campaigning, and thereafter I only worked within the system (I had once canvassed Macalester before my change of heart). My conscience told me I should not do this, and so I was offended Mac Dems was door-knocking and lit dropping in the dorms that weekend. I took to Twitter to voice my displeasure, and I told the campus administration about what was going on. When you are in the middle of an election, things become heated. You lose sight of what matters, and you start sounding like a partisan hack (and trust me, looking at my Twitter, I can see that). One friend called my actions “petty” and “disgusting,” and there was a certain truth to it.

I apologize for using a problem everybody—Republican or Democrat—takes advantage of to score political points. When I did point out what others were doing wrong, I should have admitted my own indiscretions. So here it is: I’ve broken campus policies all over the state, and so have others. And campus administrations all over the state need to know this instead of acting like it is not going on to cover their own liability. Schools barely meet the state law in order to make it as difficult as possible to get official permission to door-knock within their residence halls.

This just encourages campaigns to break the rules. It is time for schools to quit meeting the bare minimum and have a broader conversation about opening up campus to some real political engagement.