Students organize to raise voter turnout at Mac


Volunteers hand out Biden signs, buttons and masks at Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s stop at Macalester on Sunday. Photo by Kori Suzuki ’21.

In 2016, 81.9 percent* of eligible Macalester students voted in the 2016 presidential election. While far surpassing the national college voting rate of 48.3 percent, Macalester students are working hard to beat that number.

“[Civic engagement is] just something I’ve always found personally important… that number was kind of shocking,” Katie Funk ’23 said.

Funk is taking the interdisciplinary studies course Democracy in Action, which is just one of the avenues students are using to get involved in the election. Democracy in Action occurs across both modules and works with students to gain internships and hold seminars and discussions related to civic engagement efforts and the upcoming election. 

Efua Sey ’21, a political science major at Macalester, is also taking Democracy in Action this semester She is an intern at the Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (also known as MN IPL). MN IPL is a non-partisan, faith and climate justice based organization focused on voting and ensuring energy justice. 

Sey currently is working to engage other Macalester students along with friends and family through her work with MN IPL. She also plans on working with student organizations such as Mac Christian Fellowship and Black Liberation Affairs Committee by planning presentations on how to vote and talking to members about the importance of voting out one’s values.

For Sey, faith communities have an important role to play in modern social movements. 

“Too many Christians are promoting division in the world, which inspired me to work for an interfaith organization,” Sey said.

Sey said that Democracy in Action has allowed her to take lessons from the classroom in Macalester and put them into action. 

“I [have] learned about many injustices and theories,” Sey said. “But I want to actually do something about it.” 

Sey will continue to work with MN IPL after the election as well, when MN IPL hopes to work to ensure stability.

Another way students are getting involved with GOTV this year is by joining the newly created Macalester chapter of Democracy Matters. Democracy Matters is a national student political organization geared towards getting students excited and involved in politics. 

Abby Green ’23 and Funk started the Macalester chapter of Democracy Matters with the goal of making sure that “every student is fully educated about the election and that they are registered and ready to vote by election day,” Funk said.

Funk originally started the student org to fulfill the internship/project requirement for her Democracy in Action course.

This election season, Democracy Matters at Mac has hosted Zoom meetings debriefing the presidential debates and tabled near the Campus Center to register people to vote and to answer questions on how to vote and register. Most recently, the org hosted a Zoom event for first year students to teach them how to register to vote. 

Green and Funk have also been working with the Civic Engagement Center to plan campus-wide events to “get as many people ready and excited about the election as possible,” according to Funk. Democracy Matters at Mac’s founders believe that their organization’s work is incredibly important, given the lower-than-expected voting rate in 2016.

 In the last two weeks before the election, Democracy Matters plans to have people tell their stories about why they’re voting and why voting is important, using some form of social media or potentially outdoors socially-distanced. They will also push people to vote on election day using signs and chalk art with their upcoming Chalk the Vote event. Chalk the Vote, taking place on Oct. 23 outside the Campus Center, is an event where Mac students can use chalk to write why they are voting and how they are getting involved in the election. 

Post-election day, Democracy Matters’ long-term goals include getting money out of politics and holding local politicians accountable by inviting them to speak and answer people’s questions on campus. 

”With this election being as crucial as it really is, we thought that it was just so important to plan events and get people excited and ready to vote, because we want everyone to use their voice and vote,” Funk said.

Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) is also spearheading efforts to get out the vote among college students, who play a critical role in whether or not she gets re-elected to the Senate. On Oct. 13 Smith’s campaign invited local college students to a question-and-answer session and a get out the vote  event at Newell Park.

Several Macalester students attended the event. Chloe Moore ’24 praised Smith’s devotion to engaging with local voters.

“I’m from New York where both my senators are more national figures and focus less on their local communities,” Moore said.

The event also featured speakers Chauntyll Allen, a current member of the St. Paul school board and State Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), who represents district 64B. They encouraged students to not only vote, but to get involved in Smith’s campaign and encourage their community to vote. 

“Being progressive is about paving the way for the future generations,” Allen said.

Smith spoke about her hope for the future, even amidst the turmoil of  COVID-19, a national recession and systemic racial injustice. Smith talked about the importance of electing Democrats not only to the White House, but local offices, too. 

College students make up a 21% of the electorate since 2015, which is why so many Macalester students are working to encourage their fellow classmates to turn out the vote in November. 

“In 2016, Trump narrowly lost Minnesota. He lost by a few votes per precinct,” Smith said. 

With the election results in Minnesota up in the air, Smith emphasized that college students have the opportunity to make their voices heard. 

*After this article was published, The Mac Weekly staff learned in an email that the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement refined their methodology which revealed that, in fact 81.9% of eligible Macalester students voted in the 2016 election. The previously reported percentage was 57.9%.

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