Minnesota Secretary of State speaks on importance of voting at Constitution Day Panel

Minnesota Secretary of State speaks on importance of voting at Constitution Day Panel

Ellen Patrickson, Staff Writer

On Thursday, Sept. 15, Macalester celebrated the upcoming Constitution and Citizenship Day, which fell on Saturday, Sept. 17, by welcoming Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon (DFL) to campus. The event also included a student panel and the opportunity to register to vote. The Civic Engagement Center, DeWitt Wallace Library, political science department and legal studies concentration collaborated to arrange the event.  

President Suzanne Rivera introduced the event by speaking on Macalester’s longstanding commitment to voting and political involvement. 

“I believe that empowering the next generation of leaders to be engaged in their community is a vital part of the work we do every day at higher education institutions, Macalester specifically,” Rivera said. “In recent years, our voting rate among eligible voters has ranked first among all participating institutions, with a rate as high as 81.9%.”

Simon then shared his thoughts on how Minnesota voter turnout has achieved such a high level, even throughout the pandemic. 

“Something I have some pride in — as it was my bill in my last term in the legislature — [is how] Minnesota has a law that says you can vote from home or your dorm room or wherever for any reason or no reason at all,” Simon said. “That, more than anything, is the law that saved the 2020 election. When I said that people didn’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote it meant that people didn’t have to go to a polling place.” 

Simon also addressed the recent rise in disinformation and the conditions under which it poses a threat to American democracy. He explained that when opinions which promote misconceptions of how the electoral system works are widely spread, they could inspire dangerous actions. 

“Everyone has a right to be wrong in this country,” Simon said. “But the reason why we care more about this kind of disinformation is because of what it has inspired — an attack on the U.S. Capitol, where rioters killed people and attacks on the freedom to vote in multiple state capitols. That’s why disinformation about the facts of our electoral system is more insidious and corrosive than most other forms of disinformation.”

Simon ended his talk by encouraging the attendees to vote and to get involved in the democratic process. 

“I am an optimist about democracy,” Simon said. “I believe that, if you want to make change, getting people elected to public office who share your views and values is a pretty big way to make change.”

The second half of the event focused on a panel made up of Simon along with three Macalester students, Julian Applebaum ’23, Lia Pak ’23 and Lindsay Alaniz ’26. The discussion began with a question on how to improve voter turnout and engagement in politics. Simon mentioned state policies that ensure that voting instructions are provided in various languages to encourage people who don’t speak English as their first language to vote.

“In the state of Minnesota, we have been providing voting materials in other languages since 1896,” he said. “We have more than doubled the number of non-English languages that we provide information in. It used to be five, and now it’s 12.”  

Applebaum also spoke about the importance of seeing voting as a part of a larger political picture to encourage people not to despair in the limits of politics. 

“Voting is a tool to make sure that we get policies in place that are as good as possible and that we keep bad laws out as much as we can, but that only goes so far,” he said. “I’m advocating not to de-emphasize voting, but to understand it as a part of a larger picture.” 

Another question addressed how the panelists stay motivated in their work on voting and democracy. 

“Looking at local elections gets me more energized and engaged because I think often those politicians and candidates are way more accessible,” Pak said. 

“A lot of us started to get more optimistic about democracy when we noticed that there was more than just white people representing us,”Alaniz said. “Now that people who look like me are voting and getting the correct knowledge, we are actually getting laws that are helping us.”

The event ended with an opportunity for all attendees to register to vote. Midterm elections will take place on Nov. 8, and Minnesota residents can register either online by Oct. 18 or in-person up until or on election day. 

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