Election 2008: MPIRG registers 450 students to vote

By April DeJarlais and David Hertz

Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) chapters throughout the state have succeeded in registering 15,000 youth voters this election season, 450 of whom are Macalester students. “Youth voter turnout is going to be huge,” said MPIRG professional organizer Amber Collett, citing Minnesota’s track record of high turnout and the 20 percent increase in turnout from 2000 to 2004.

As a nonpartisan organization, MPIRG maintains that its goal is increasing the power of the youth voting bloc, not helping any specific candidate. Joe Rasmussen ’11, a leader of Macalester MPIRG’s Democracy Task Force, said that the power of youth voting was evident in the Minnesota State Legislature’s passage of laws to decrease college loan interest rates after the 2006 elections.

“The issues that we work on transcend political parties,” Collett said, emphasizing MPIRG’s environmental and social justice work. “We’re working on campuses that are seen as liberal, but we’re also working on campuses that are seen as conservative [like St. Thomas].”

Increased youth turnout wouldn’t necessarily help either Barack Obama or John McCain, Collett said.

MPIRG members are planning be highly visible throughout the campus in the days preceding the election. Some 20 volunteers showed up to MPIRG’s election-day training at the Campus Center. Students practiced their phone-banking pitches and listened to organizers Dan Evans and Collett explain the key points of poll watching.

First-time voters usually need to be contacted several times before an election, Rasmussen said. Nevertheless, MPIRG is betting that the stereotype that students are too lazy to vote in large numbers is false.

“I’m so confident it’s ridiculous,” Collett said.

The organization hosted a debate between Minnesota House candidates Meg Ferber and Erin Murphy, which also provided an opportunity to push voter education and registration. They also recruited signitures for a “Pledge to Vote” petition at the Macalester Battle of the Bands, and reached out across campus to personally contact potential voters.

One of MPIRG’s goals is to talk to students where they already are, because “you can’t expect students to come to you” Rasmussen said. MPIRG has also compiled an absentee voter guide, which has been distributed at St. Kate’s, Carleton and Macalester.

Other students may just want to be part of a movement.

“You’ll never do anything more important than what you’re doing in the next week,” Evans said in his pep-talk wrapping up the training.