Party at the polls
As the election approaches and the polls continue to fluctuate, many St. Olaf students prepare to vote for the first time on Nov. 6. The St. Olaf Political Awareness Committee (PAC) – along with party-specific student organizations on campus – encourages students to actively and intelligently participate in the election.
With a mission to provide the student body with an unbiased source for political information, PAC has put on a variety of events to increase the level of the political conversation at St. Olaf.
“In regard to the election, PAC has prompted us to put on events like Candidate Town Hall: an opportunity for undecided voters or anyone that wanted to come and ask questions about the positions of each of the four most prominent candidates,” PAC Coordinator Kevin George ’13 said.
Additionally, PAC brought in political speakers such as Zach Wahls and Bob Woodward – both well-attended events – but most importantly, worked to register as many students to vote as possible.
“Easily the most important thing we’ve done so far is our drive to register students to vote,” George said. “It is a fundamental goal of our organization.”
PAC successfully pre-registered between 200-250 students, and in combination with the efforts of Students for Barack Obama (STObama), students are well-informed about the formalities of the voting process.
“So many students wanted to register to vote on campus or had questions about how they could request an absentee ballot from their home state,” STObama Volunteer Coordinator Olivia Slack ’15 said. “Voting is your civic duty as American. Our democratic system as we know it today wouldn’t function without people participating in the political process by voting.”
For first-time voter Ben Swenson-Klatt ’16, excitement about voting extends beyond civic duty.
“To me, voting in this election is more than just believing in a political party,” Swenson-Klatt said. “Basic human rights are being voted for which I think shouldn’t even be an issue in the first place. I have friends that will be affected if certain amendments pass. I believe very strongly in equality for everyone – the chance to love someone or the ability to vote, so I’m trying to do everything I can to stop them.”
With so much buzz about the election coming at students from different directions, PAC remains one of the few organizations – on or off campus – that transmits political information without an agenda.
“We don’t exist to convince you how you should feel about a specific policy or candidate, we exist only to give you the best information possible for you to make your own decision about, which is an invaluable resource,” said George.
Zach Westermeyer ’15 appreciates PAC’s unbiased approach, noting that the media does not always present the truth about politics, especially around election time.
“All the partisanship prevents the government working for the good of the people like it was created to do, and instead turns into a giant campaign to make the other side look worse, Westermeyer said. “On the bright side, election season is a reminder of the fact that we live under a free, democratic government. Educated voting is important because you are exercising your right to an opinion from your perspective on who should lead this country.”
Although election season can be a long, tiring process, the excitement on campus about the election remains evident.
“I do think students are excited to vote this year,” said George. “There has been a lot of energy on campus the past few months, and I expect that to carry through to Election Day next week. We have a fairly politically aware campus, and students do show interest, as they are involved in a wide variety of political causes and organizations.”
A new political organization on campus, College Greens focuses on informing students about the Green Party’s presence in the upcoming election, as well as promoting the party’s key values.
“Ecological wisdom is really important to us, focusing on environment problems and environmental justice,” College Green’s President Lauren Kramer ’13 said. “We are also going to focus on environmental justice issues happening in Northfield community, and we might host local environmental activists just to get out the word for environmental justice.”
As far as other events, College Greens took part in PAC’s candidate panel and hopes to table in front of the Caf and host speakers to discuss non-violence and their involvement with peace movements.
With a focus on student involvement. College Democrats has been and will continue to organize phone-banking, door knocking and tabling outside the Caf.
“The purpose and goal of the College Democrats is to help St. Olaf students become informed about local candidates, as well as giving people the chance to become politically active and volunteer [at] events, as well as for candidates,” Greta Johnson ’14 said.
The organization is working to spread the word about the importance of voting for candidates running for office as well as amendments. “Although we focus on the Democratic platform as a whole, the proposed Marriage and Voter ID amendments on the ballot this year in Minnesota are important to us,” Johnson said.
Students For Liberty
Also a new student organization this year, Students for Liberty is a non-partisan libertarian organization on campus.
“Students for Liberty is a new organization and our main focus is discussing issues that pertain to liberty,” Treasurer Kristen Stenehjem ’15 said. “We will mainly be discussing topics that are relevant to the election between now and Nov. 6 to give our members better insight into how to form their opinions to maximize liberty and freedom.”
The group understands that there is still work to be done following the elections.
“We are planning on continuing the conversation of liberty and how it will change in our country after the outcome of the elections,” Stenehjem said.
Students For Barack Obama
As the name indicates, Students for Barack Obama (STObama) is working towards the goal of re-electing President Obama.
“STObama has been working hard to register and contact voters and recruit volunteers for Get Out The Vote,” Volunteer Coordinator Olivia Slack ’15 said. “STObama’s goal is to contact 3,000 voters during the Get Out The Vote four-day period.”
Between tabling, phone banking, hosting debate-watching parties and dorm canvassing, STObama has been quite active on campus.
“We table outside the Caf every Wednesday during lunch. During tabling, we register people to vote, have them sign ‘Pledge to Vote’ cards and just generally inform people about the upcoming election and answer any questions students might have,” Slack said.
Hoping to share Republican values with the St. Olaf Community, College Republicans has been in contact with several of the candidates that are representing this district, including Mike Dudley, Kurt Bills and John Klein.
“Two weeks ago Brian Wermerskirchen – a local candidate currently running for the Minnesota House of Representatives – came in and chatted with us about his campaign, his platform and what he has been doing in the community,” College Republicans’ Chair Matt Mittelsteadt ’15 said.
College Republicans plans on tabling in order to support the Republican Party’s candidates on both a local and national level, while also publicizing their organization.
“Last year the organization wasn’t too big, but we are really trying to make it well-organized this year so we have a bigger impact,” Mittelsteadt said. “After the election we are hoping to meet with some of winners of the local elections, asking them to come in and speak at St. Olaf.”