The student senate at Itasca Community College has seen a bit of a boost the past few months. Beginning the semester with only three members, now with less than a week to go before the general election, the entire senate body consists of 13 members of diverse political and ideological backgrounds.
The swelling of the student senate was in no small part because of the presidential election year, as well as being a campaign season with two divisive constitutional amendments on the ballot in Minnesota. But it was also due to the massive Get Out The Vote initiative done by the many of the members, galvanizing the student body to partake in their civic duty, many for their first time. For their efforts, where they registered 25.9 percent of the entire student population to vote, the ICC Student Senate won the Voter Cup from the Minnesota State College Student Association (MSCSA) for registering the highest percentage of students, beating every other two year college in the state. They registered more than 400 students.
Get Out The Vote started at the beginning of the semester, and was largely spearheaded by the original three members, President Chris Krueth, Vice President Stef Rebro, and Secretary of Communication Kaley Schoonmaker.
Saying that despite his interest and passion for the political process, Krueth wasn’t even aware that ICC had a Student Senate for nearly the first two years of his enrollment. After becoming involved more than a year ago, Krueth, Rebro, and Schoonmaker worked harder at advertising the organization throughout campus; another initiative that lead to the growth in student involvement.
“[When recruited] I was told that our job was to be the voice of the students, and that they’re to be represented on the campus, in the region, and statewide with the legislature. And I was like ‘Oh my god, I didn’t even know this organization even existed. Of course I want to be in it!’ So I joined right away,” said Krueth, noting how the importance of the organization didn’t originally reflect its visibility on campus.
An officially non-partisan organization, with members who lean conservative as well as liberal, the primary function of the ICC Student Senate is to represent the best interest of student body. With that in mind, despite the overwhelming partisan split on the issue, the one issue the senate has decided to take a stance on is the Voter ID Amendment, with a unanimous vote taken just over a week ago to oppose the amendment.
“We feel it will affect the students. And that’s really the only reason why we can take a stance on it is because it will affect the students as a whole,” said Schoonmaker.
Because of the impending changes to absentee ballots, as well as the elimination of same-day registration, the students feel that it will make the initial voting experience of many college students much more difficult then it needs to be. This was in part because of the general feeling of disenfranchisement that many students feel already. Explaining how during the Get Out The Vote initiative that they all spoke with many students who felt that their vote didn’t matter anyway, Student Senators like Krueth and Schoonmaker are worried that the expanded difficultly in casting that first vote in a place other than their official home could prove extremely problematic for the next generation of civic-minded adults.
“If there was a higher percent of voter fraud, then we might agree with this kind of thing,” said Schoonmaker. “But just the fact that it’s so low; there was 113 cases in the 2008 election of voter fraud out of the 2.9 million who voted.”
Another issue with the Voter ID amendment is the fact that it is going to be in the constitution, which is an extremely inflexible document. Noting that the means by which the amendment is going to be implemented are not yet figured out, but will be by the legislature if the amendment passes, they are not fully confident that they, nor anyone else, actually knows what they’re voting on. Touching on same-day registration, Schoonmaker discussed how the language of the amendment doesn’t explicitly dissolve the practice, but that many experts, including the Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, have said that they do not see how same-day registration can remain if the amendment passes.
“If it passes, it goes to the legislature, the legislature figures out the details. What are those details?” said Schoonmaker. “We don’t really get to vote on that. If it gets there and they decide that same-day registration just doesn’t work out, we’re going to lose lots and lots of voters, especially college students.”
The members of the ICC Student Senate also noted that Minnesota has ranked number one in voter turnout in the country ever since 1980, which was a source of pride for those who worked to get as many students registered as possible. The amendment being a measure that could drop the state from the no. 1 slot after so many years was yet another reason they felt they couldn’t support it.