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Continued: Three citizens, three paths to the polls

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 2, 2010 - 4:52 AM

Kyle Kracht, 18, a student at the University of Minnesota, is eager to cast his first vote. He followed the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections and was disappointed he couldn't vote.

"I've been interested in politics for a long time," he says. "But I've had to view it from the sidelines. To actually participate in the process is very exciting."

Kracht, who has a double major in engineering and math, takes his responsibilities as a voter seriously. He read the platforms of the three major candidates for governor and other biographical material.

Dan Hofrenning, a political science professor at St. Olaf College in Northfield, thinks families and schools should do more to affirm a young person's first vote, perhaps by taking their picture or having a ceremony.

"I think one reason turnout of students voting is low is we don't make a big deal about it or we don't celebrate the first vote as a major rite of passage," he says.

Kamilya Shaikh, 21, who was born in Somalia, became a U.S. citizen last year and today will vote for the first time.

"I'm really excited about it," says Shaikh. "What's the point of being a citizen and not voting?"

Indeed, last week she knocked on doors in the Somali community, urging people to vote. "She's very involved," says Hashi Shafi, executive director Somali Action Alliance, which organized the effort.

Shafi says the group encourages Somalis to get involved in their schools and neighborhoods, thereby "practicing democracy by participating in public life."

"The demographics of Minnesota are changing," says Prof. Joe Peschek, chair of Hamline University's political science department. "The percent of the electorate who are foreign-born, naturalized citizens is growing and is projected to continue grow. You already see candidates for political office courting Hmong voters, Somali voters, Latino voters, especially in the Twin Cities."

Today, Dottie O'Brien will be on the job, doing what she's done for 52 or 53 years -- she can't remember exactly.

O'Brien, 89, is an election judge in Mound and one of the longest serving election judges in Minnesota.

"I love it," she says of the work. "I meet neighbors I haven't met before. It is a wonderful way to meet people."

Mound City Clerk Bonnie Ritter says it is not unusual to see people give the 4-foot 9-inch truck driver's widow a hug when they come to vote. "She personally knows everybody at the polling place," Ritter says.

Judges clearly support the election process, but they also love to socialize. "I think the social interaction is the main attraction for many or perhaps most of the people who serve as election judges," says Joe Mansky, Ramsey County elections manager.

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  • Setting up voting stations.

  • Kyle Kracht

  • Bonnie Ritter

  • Kamilya Shaikh

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