By Jennifer Vogel
When it comes to voting, Minnesota does exceptionally well. Often, including in 2016, the state has the highest voter turnout in the nation for presidential contests. That’s partly thanks to the fact that, back in 1974, when alumnus Wendell Anderson (B.A. ’54, J.D. ’60) was governor, Minnesota was ahead of the pack in adopting Election Day voter registration. The law was supported by former Secretary of State Joan Growe, who also attended the U, while she was a state legislator.
Minnesota is a good government state—with problems, certainly, including dramatic racial disparities—where residents take civic engagement seriously and evince confidence in elected officials. Minnesotans are dutiful. We read a lot. We attend forums and call in to radio shows. And we are educated, with 35 percent of adult residents holding bachelor’s degrees or higher.
The University of Minnesota, by equipping and inspiring people to participate in public life, owns a big part of Minnesota’s enviable reputation. The U has a habit of making good citizens and turning out political big deals who put their stamps on the culture, from Hubert H. Humphrey (B.A. ’39) to Walter Mondale (B.A. ’51, J.D. ’56) to Eugene McCarthy (M.A. ’39) to Harold Stassen (B.L. ’27, J.D. ’29). In fact, at present, there are 52 alumni serving in the Minnsesota Legislature—of various political stripes, religious backgrounds, races, and genders—comprising a quarter of all lawmakers.
When we vote, we are stating our collective will. Yes, it’s hard to imagine a collective will at the moment, since society feels more divided than most of us can remember. But when we vote we are expressing confidence that each of us matters, even if by dint of addition. And so, despite attempts to undermine the elections process by nefarious actors, domestic and foreign, and despite schemes to make us believe our votes in fact don’t count, we will line up at the polls this November to fill in the ovals. As always, the stakes will be high. As always, we will—gleefully or glumly—accept the results.
Take heart in the knowledge that good citizens, who also happen to be U alumni and faculty, are working hard to safeguard elections everywhere. Alumna Sheila Krumholz (B.A. ’88) runs the D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks the hidden money behind elections. Former sociology doctoral student Sarah Walker, U professor Chris Uggen, and Ph.D. student Rob Stewart (B.A. ’12, M.A. ’18) are working to restore voting rights to felons. The new Certificate in Election Administration program at the Humphrey School, the only program of its kind in the country, is teaching administrators how to run honest, secure elections. And alumnus and Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon (J.D. ’96), who oversees voting and statewide election services, is keeping the doors wide open to voters while guarding against the increasing threat of cyberattacks. You’ll find these stories and more in the issue you hold in your hands.
So, why vote? voting is the only mechanism sturdy and legitimate enough to determine what we think as a society and where we’ll go next. But it only works if we all show up, away from the shouting, to cast our ballots.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Send letters and comments to UMNAlumnimag@umn.edu.