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Secretary of State seeks to boost voter turnout

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Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, left, talks with local leaders about voter outreach initiatives Wednesday, June 29, 2016, at Diversity Council in Rochester.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon traveled to Rochester on Wednesday as part of a statewide road show to boost voter turnout.

Simon met with representatives from the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association, Rochester Diversity Council and United Way of Olmsted Country to discuss 2016 voter initiatives.

The visit was part of a larger effort by the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office to increase voter turnout in Minnesota. Simon will be traveling to all 87 counties to spread the message and get public comment on voter turnout.

Minnesota has a long history of high turnout in general elections, ranking No. 1 in the United States nine elections in a row, averaging in the high 70th percentile during presidential election years. In 2014, however, Minnesota dropped to sixth nationally, with 50.51 percent of eligible voters casting ballots.

"We've owned that spot for a long time, I think we deserve to be back there, and we think we know what it takes," Simon said.


A new nonpartisan initiative introduced by Simon is the Pledge-to-Vote program, in which organizations around the state can order kits containing pledge to vote stickers, voter registration information, basic information on how to vote, and voter pledge cards to give to members of the community.

Simon said that the key to increasing voter turnout is simply bringing information to the people, such as same-day registration, online voter registration and no excuses absentee voting.

"Half the battle here, probably more than half the battle, is getting very simple, non-partisan information in front of people," Simon said.

Another initiative is to bring the election to high schools and colleges through Minnesota Student Vote 2016 and the Minnesota College Ballot Bowl 2016.

Students in the Minnesota Student Vote initiative participate in a mock election. Schools are provided with "I Voted" stickers, formal ballots, and other resources to make the mock election feel real.

There are 169 schools registered for the mock election, which represents about 44 percent of Minnesota high school students.

The Minnesota College Ballot contest between universities throughout Minnesota. Both initiatives are meant to encourage young people to vote when they are eligible.

"The idea is to get good habits started early," Simon said. "If they think of themselves as voters before they're voters, they are far more likely to vote in that first election where they are eligible and if they do that, they are more likely to make it a lifelong habit."


During the meeting, the organizations in attendance were encouraged to give advice on how to reach the Rochester community, as well as voice concerns about the issues facing voter turnout in Minnesota.

One major concern brought up at the meeting is the difficulty of getting immigrants and minorities to vote. Low civic engagement among immigrants involves factors such as a lack of education about how the voting process works, not feeling comfortable or accepted while at voting stations and being suspicious of the election process due to past experiences.

"It's a challenging and tricky thing because different immigrant communities are different. They have different cultural needs or perceptions or backgrounds," said Simon. "So you have to sort of tailor those approaches to work with those communities."

Simon said that based on the concerns raised at the meeting, he will be looking into more ways to get minorities and immigrants involved in the voting process.

Initiatives that have already been set up for this cause include doubling the foreign languages from five to 10 when it comes to voting information, registration applications and recruiting more bilingual volunteers to help out on Election Day.

Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, who was also in attendance at the Wednesday meeting, and

said that to increase voter turnout in a large city such as Rochester, organizations and individuals have to focus on the spreading of information and work to dispel the negativity that surrounds elections.

"We have to make sure that the real message gets out there and not all the static that will come in," Brede said.


Simon also traveled to La Crescent, Winona, Wabasha and Red Wing on Wednesday. This is part of his new philosophy to defer to different communities and organizations to encourage the public to go out and vote.

"You can't do this job well by just sitting in an office in St. Paul, you just can't," Simon said. "There are too many partnerships and relationships across the state to be made."

For more information about election information, how to register and the Pledge to Vote program and other initiatives, visit mnvotes.org .

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