People are often told it is their civic duty to vote. But Americans’ willingness to go to the polls often depends on convenience of the location and how invested they are in the candidates and issues to be voted on.
For MSUM students, the polling location is very close. In fact, it is right on campus, in room 101 of the CMU. This wasn’t always the case. With next Tuesday’s elections, there are rumors the on-campus polling place could be taken away if not enough students vote.
Even though the revoking of the polling place is just a rumor for now, Student Senate leaders said they are doing everything they can to prevent the possible loss. “At this time it is just speculation and rumor, but that alone is scary,” said Kevin Struxness, Student Senate president.
Starting this week, Student Senate will begin a week-long campaign pushing hard for students to participate in the city elections. Senators will be educating classmates and tabling in the CMU to spread the word about the importance of voting. MSUM Republican and Democratic student groups are also involved in the effort to keep the polling site on campus.
Along with these efforts, mayoral candidates and 2nd ward council candidates will be having a debate on Nov. 4 at 1 p.m. at MSUM. They will be talking about higher education and sustainability before opening the debate to questions from the audience.
Can students even vote in city elections if they are not originally from Moorhead? Yes, any student who resides on campus can vote at the CMU. However, if a student lives in Fargo they cannot vote in Moorhead elections. If they live off campus in Moorhead, they must vote at a different polling place. Same-day registration is available throughout the city.
“If you’re a student here, shop here, pay taxes here, you’re going to want to pay attention. These decisions affect students,” Struxness said.
Even though 92 percent of the student population turned out to vote last November for the 2012 presidential election, the city council is rumored to still be considering taking the polls off campus, said Sarah Danielson, a member of Student Senate and the College Democrats.
“Conservative council members believe the campus to be a Democratic vote,” Struxness said. By removing the convenience of voting on campus, they believe they will deter students from casting their vote against them.
This is not the first time the polling place has been threatened. It had been previously taken away. After a long three-year fight, Student Senate was able to get the polling place back in time for the presidential elections last year. “Student Senate worked really hard to get that on campus to make it more accessible to students,” Danielson said.
It is unclear what the qualifications are to be able to justify removing a polling place. Danielson speculated that one concrete way to judge the worthiness of MSUM to host one is if the costs outweigh voter turnout. She said Student Senate is pushing for a 30 percent student participation; a mere fraction of the presidential election.
Though the local elections are much less publicized compared to the exorbitant ads during the presidential election, the decisions these local politicians make are close to home and directly affect students’ daily lives. “The awareness of what local government does is important for everybody to pay attention to,” Struxness said.
Moorhead City Clerk Michelle French wrote in an email there was no way the council could legally take away the polling place. “The City of Moorhead will not be closing down the polling site at MSUM. Redistricting just happened in 2011 after the 2010 census. We really do encourage students to come out and vote, that is the reasoning to add sites at MSUM and Concordia,” French wrote.
Danielson and Student Senate had heard a different story, however. Mark Altenburg, 2nd ward city council member informed Student Senate of the possible loss of the polling place. Citing Moorhead city code, Altenburg told Student Senate that though it is true wards cannot be reconfigured after a census, subdivisions of wards can. MSUM is considered a subdivision, he said, and therefore is not safe from the laws of redistricting.
BY MARIE VEILLETTE