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The University of Minnesota has some of the highest voter turnout in the country. It’s trying to get it even higher

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
MSA students and university staff pushed making voter registration available though MyU, the website students use to register for classes and pay tuition.

Between classes, homework, friends, work, most college students have a lot of demands on their time.

One thing that often falls by the wayside is voting. In 2018, 42.7 percent of 18 to 24-year-old Minnesotans who are U.S. citizens voted in the midterm election, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s the lowest turnout of any age group in Minnesota and is only about two-thirds of statewide turnout for all age groups.

The University of Minnesota is hoping to help increase those numbers by making it easier to register to vote at its five college campuses across the state.

This year, the school added a notification on MyU, the website students use to navigate the university, that leads them to voter registration online and helps them sign up for texts and emails reminders to cast ballots.

Registration reminder

The online voter registration and reminder efforts are part of a campaign to increase voter turnout on campus by increasing registration and education of students participating across levels of government.

“When students aren’t engaged in that process, student priorities aren’t being heard, and they’re not being valued and they’re not being addressed,” said Jude Goossens, the Twin Cities Campus Minnesota Student Association director of government and legislative affairs.

For the last two elections, the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus has participated in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, a nonpartisan nonprofit that aims to increase voter participation on college campuses nationwide, creating an action plan for each election. Thirty-six campuses, including public and private two and four-year schools in Minnesota, are currently participating in the challenge.


The Twin Cities campus plan to increase turnout for the 2018 election included a Voterpalooza party, a voter registration drive at the State Fair, flyers, tabling at the student union, a digital ad for sports events and emails from then-president Eric Kaler. At 58.7 percent estimated turnout among eligible student voters, the Twin Cities Campus (the data for which also includes the Rochester campus) had high turnout relative to other campuses, according to estimates from Tufts University. Public research institutions averaged 40.8 percent turnout.

Still, students and staff are looking to increase those numbers even more.

“We were trying to think of ways to break down the barriers of voting. Thankfully, Minnesota already has some of the best voting laws when it comes to same-day registration, absentee ballots and all of that,” said Max Hurst, the former MSA director of legislative and government affairs. The question, then, was how to meet students where they were at: online. MSA students and university staff pushed making voter registration available though MyU, the website students use to register for classes and pay tuition.

When students click the notification, they’re taken to TurboVote, a third-party website run by nonpartisan nonprofit Democracy Works. TurboVote helps them sign up for emails and texts about registration deadlines, elections and where to vote. They are also directed to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office to register to vote online.

screenshot of turbo vote form

The registration notification made its debut on MyU across the University of Minnesota system before the 2019 election. Without publicizing the new registration efforts — and in a municipal election year with little on the ballot in University of Minnesota communities — about 1,000 students registered to vote, said Mike Miller, the university’s legislative advocacy coordinator.

Barriers to voting

Jennifer Domagal-Goldman, the executive director of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, applauded the U’s efforts to increase registration through online university tools, a nascent strategy on college campuses.

“(Sometimes) what’s preventing them from voting is not a degree of apathy that is often part of the narrative, but not meeting deadlines or having information,” she said, particularly when voter laws and precincts change frequently, and students move to different addresses regularly.

She recalled her first year in college, a presidential election year when she knew who she wanted to vote for but was busy and concerned with passing classes and getting along with her roommate. It all felt overwhelming. She doesn’t know that she would have voted if her mom hadn’t sent her absentee ballot in the mail.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University found that nationally, the most common reasons youth didn’t vote were that they didn’t like the candidates or issues, were too busy or had scheduling conflicts on election day and had problems had trouble with registration or ID. But, Domagal-Goldman said, research has found once a person votes, they’re more likely to vote again, so efforts to get students to vote when they’re young are likely to have lasting effects.

Toward 2020

Domagal-Goldman expects 2020 to be a high water mark for student voting at colleges and universities in the U.S. “Some of it will be outside influences, some of it will be the work that places like the University of Minnesota have been doing ,” she said.

Miller says that between traditional efforts to get out the vote and the new online registration work, he’s hoping to see high turnout in 2020.

Estimated turnout among eligible student voters
Source: Tufts University

“I’m hoping lawmakers see this new engagement and really start engaging with the students on the world that they want to live in and their priorities,” he said.

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 12/13/2019 - 11:53 am.

    When I think of how Republican governors and legislatures across the country have been trying to prevent students from voting, I hope Minnesota efforts to greatly increase the student percentage voting is successful.

    Those Republicans must know something about what students think, to so fiercely oppose their participation in the upcoming 2020 election.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 12/15/2019 - 07:50 pm.

      The only thing they know is that their message is toxic which is why they try and obstruct voting as much as they can.

      • Submitted by Dale Crabtree on 12/16/2019 - 11:55 am.

        This is funny because I know the U of M employee featured in the article, and he is a Republican. No one in the nation works harder than he does to ensure young people vote. If what you are saying is true, how do you reconcile that with his work?

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/16/2019 - 02:23 pm.

          I can’t speak for that guy, but Republicans have gone to great lengths to suppress the student vote.

          • Submitted by Dale Crabtree on 12/17/2019 - 01:30 pm.

            Can you point to evidence of that in Minnesota? My buddy is the only one I know who does this work, and when he saw this, he laughed. He said Minnesota has the highest voter turnout in the country because no one is trying to suppress anything. He did say that in other states, both parties regularly try to suppress the other party through moving polling stations, limiting hours, and subversive campaigning, but not here.

            • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/18/2019 - 01:24 pm.

              First of all, your buddy is being dishonest in claiming that both parties try to do this. Its only one party – Republican – that is trying to suppress the vote. And the answer to your question is no, this does not happen in Minnesota, precisely because the Democrats have controlled at least part of the state government for a long time.

  2. Submitted by Max Hailperin on 12/14/2019 - 06:40 am.

    Important context: Since 1991, Minnesota Statutes section 201.1611 has required post-secondary institutions to provide voter registration forms. Providing an online link on MyU is just a long-overdue modernization of this often overlooked requirement. Other post-secondary institutions should follow suit.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/16/2019 - 10:37 am.

    Stuffing the ballot box since 1991.

    The dirty little secret is that hundreds if not thousands of college students vote twice. Once with an absentee ballot from their home district and once in the town where their campus is located. No one does anything about it because the politicians and bureaucrats aren’t really sure who is benefiting from this voter fraud. I know these things.

    • Submitted by Dale Crabtree on 12/16/2019 - 11:53 am.

      This is nonsense. The Secretary of State tracks registrations and compares lists to make sure no ID numbers vote twice. When someone pre-registers to vote, it voids their previous registration. That is why we require an ID number in Minnesota.

      After the election, there is a database of all voters, if anyone appears twice, they are charged with a crime. Stop spreading rumors and lies you have made up. Your theory doesn’t even make sense if you have any idea how the system works.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/16/2019 - 12:41 pm.

        More than half of the state’s college students aren’t from Minnesota. The SoS can only check Minnesota registrations.

        I’ve stood in line behind students waiting to vote at both St. Thomas and the U of M and overheard them discussing this fraudulent behavior. And it’s not new.

        • Submitted by Max Hailperin on 12/16/2019 - 12:54 pm.

          As a factual matter, the claim that “the SoS can only check Minnesota registrations” is incorrect. Registrations are routinely checked from 28 other states plus the District of Columbia. (Other states can also be checked on an individualized basis when there is some particular suspicion.) https://ericstates.org/who-we-are/

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/16/2019 - 02:25 pm.

          Except it actually never happens.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/16/2019 - 02:29 pm.

          Putting aside that there is no evidence that this actually happens, and that contrary to your claims, it actually would be easy to detect, does anyone really think students would be talking about this in line to vote? That they would be speaking aloud about their plans to commit felonies? And that a conservative guy overheard these discussions on multiple occasions?

          What absolute nonsense.

        • Submitted by Dale Crabtree on 12/17/2019 - 01:32 pm.

          You can’t register in MN without verifying with an ID. Once you have a MN ID, your ID from your previous state is void. That is the whole point of REAL ID!

          Also, there is a national voter database that SOS’s use to find fraud. This is utter nonsense.

          And if you are in line behind UMN and UST students, sounds like you are the one voting twice.

        • Submitted by Dale Crabtree on 12/17/2019 - 01:39 pm.

          This stat is made up.

          According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education data from 2017, the last year available, there were 244,000 undergraduate students attending MN colleges and universities. 188,000 of them are native Minnesotans. That is significantly more than half.

          Here is the data, for people who want to check my work: http://www.ohe.state.mn.us/sPages/student_enroll_data.cfm

        • Submitted by ian wade on 12/17/2019 - 06:41 pm.

          Riiiight. I’ll place this in the same file as people who claim to be standing behind poor folks as they buy lobster with their food stamps.

        • Submitted by James Miller on 01/14/2020 - 10:21 am.

          Please cite examples. You waste everyone’s time w/unsubstantiated rumors and allegations.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/16/2019 - 02:24 pm.

      Cool story, bro. Sadly, there is no evidence whatsoever this is true.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 12/17/2019 - 11:44 am.

      No Dennis, you do not know these things.

      You have either invented the claim yourself, or are repeating some social media claptrap from the paranoid right.

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