Students: Think ahead and plan to vote

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2014 - 6:50 PM

“Decide where you reside” is timely advice.

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It’s back-to-school week across Minnesota, give or take a few days, and the to-do list for students of all ages and their families is daunting. It would be easy to postpone attention to one item suggested for college students’ lists by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie last week. He labeled it “Decide where you reside.”

In other words, if you’re 18 or older and otherwise eligible to vote, decide soon where you will vote in the Nov. 4 election. If you’re a student residing in a college dorm or off-campus housing, will that be your voting residence? Or will you vote via absentee ballot in the precinct where you live when college is not in session? (Your answer cannot be “both.”)

Either way — but especially if you choose the latter — you’ll be well served to preregister to vote before the Oct. 14 deadline. Courtesy of the 2014 Legislature, that can be done online via the secretary of state’s website, or by mail or in person at a city or county elections office. An absentee ballot can be requested online or in person, too, and will be available after Sept. 19. As of a change this year in state law, absentee voters need not state an excuse for their absence to cast their ballots early.

Minnesota voters can also register to vote at the polls on election day, with proof of residency. But those who register in advance will have a speedier experience on Nov. 4.

Ritchie is right to call students’ attention to voting, especially in this nonpresidential election year. Even in high-turnout Minnesota, election participation has usually dropped significantly when the presidency is not on the ballot. That’s true particularly among voters younger than 30. In 2010 in Minnesota, turnout in the under-30 cohort was just less than 35 percent, compared with 61 percent among voters older than 30. Many observers believe that low turnout among young voters was a key contributor to the 2010 election’s outcome, which saw GOP gains in Congress and the Minnesota Legislature.

But encouraging young adults to vote ought not to be discounted as a partisan plea by a DFL secretary of state. As the state’s chief elections administrator, Ritchie is reinforcing history’s lesson that democracies gain stability and legitimacy when elections attract broad participation. College students ought to know that — and Minnesota’s colleges ought to help get Ritchie’s message out, with some well-placed reminders to students to “decide where you reside.”

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