St. Thomas student Ashlynn Smith.
Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas

Increasing Voter Engagement in Election Season

Early Sept. 20, the St. Thomas campus was just waking up, with the exception of one group of dedicated volunteers and faculty/staff. The Civic Engagement, Voter Education and Advocacy Task Force (CEVEA) was hard at work setting up booths across campus, eager to get to work on one of the biggest days during election season: National Voter Registration Day. The CEVEA task force works to get out the vote to St. Thomas students through voter registration, voter education and voter turnout on Election Day, creating ease of access to voting for students and prompting students to plan for the day. National Voter Registration Day was a big day for CEVEA and its volunteers, pulling in Tommies from all corners.

Members of the League of Women Voters of St. Paul register students to vote. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

The League of Women Voters of St. Paul – St. Thomas’ voting community partners – arrived in the early morning to help get out the vote to students around campus and stayed through the day’s heat to accomplish the goal. Without their help, the voter registration booths or outreach would not be a possibility. Volunteers spent the morning connecting with students on their way to and between classes, passing out stickers and registering students, both on paper and by scanning a QR code, to check students’ registration status and polling location.

Several students, faculty and staff volunteered to get out the vote, standing by the Archbishop John Ireland statue and outside Tommie North, on John P. Monahan Plaza and in the crosswalk of Owens Science Hall, ready to start the conversation about voter registration. During the convo hour, over 20 athletes and coaches canvassed the campus and passed out voting-related swag, competing to get as many people to register as possible. “If I can get five, you can definitely get 10,” one athlete joked. In total, there were more than 100 paper registrations filled out and numerous more students sent to the link to register.

During the afternoon, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon arrived on campus, followed by his team and various media outlets. Simon talked with Manuela Hill-Munoz, a staff member who co-facilitates CEVEA, about the efforts surrounding voter education and registration.

“It’s surprising to get even one paper registration these days, much less 100,” Simon remarked, commenting on how many people prefer to use a link in today’s culture. Simon and the CEVEA task force dropped in on Social Work 391 class to spread the importance of voter registration as well as reference Minnesota’s status in our democracy. Minnesota is currently the state with the highest voter turnout as of 2020, with 80% of the eligible voting population turning out to vote.

St. Thomas has high student voter engagement. During the last midterm election, 77% of St. Thomas students registered to vote and 61% of students turned out to vote on Election Day compared to the average institution’s 40%. The CEVEA team hopes to up that registered percentage to 85%, and to close the gap between registered students and those who turn out to vote. With a newly assembled team headed by three student leaders, the group hopes to focus on voter registration, voter education and voter events to help spread the importance of voting across St. Thomas’ campuses.

The week of Oct. 3 is National Voter Education Week, and CEVEA has a full week of events planned to help educate St. Thomas on voting. On Oct. 3, Professor Tim Lynch will be having a conversation about the upcoming elections and what to expect from election season. Minnesota Secretary of State Simon will be returning for a voter education panel co-sponsored by the Political Science Department and First-Year Experience on Oct. 4; lunch will be provided. There will be a polling place simulation to get students used to the experience of going to their polling place on Oct. 5, and during the convo hour on Oct. 6, there will be voting experts on John P. Monahan Plaza to answer any questions about the voting process.