Go Vote, Gophers

MSA President Abeer Syedah talks student election concerns

Photo: Xavier Wang

Photo: Xavier Wang

This summer’s Big Ten conference saw the meeting of student leaders from universities all over the country. One of the hot issues for discussion: how to get students to vote. This being a major election year, the representatives from the schools’ student governments weighed their options for increasing registration and student interest. With the help of TurboVote, an online resource for voters all over the country, the universities established a Big Ten voter registration competition. Minnesota Student Association President Abeer Syedah has good news about the effect of strategies on campus to get voters registered.

“We are slaying,” Syedah said in regards to the competition, “The runner up to us right now is Iowa, and they’re a full half behind us.”

If Syedah is proud of the standings, it is not without warrant. MSA has made voter registration and turnout a key issue of the fall semester. They have reached out to students by email, through social media campaigns, and in person at events such as September’s Voterpalooza. Between MSA and the other students on campus helping to promote TurboVote, our campus has registered a total of 8,000 people.

The success of these efforts is all the more impressive given the attitude of many students surrounding the presidential election. Despite its dominance in news coverage, many people are sick of hearing about Trump and Clinton.

“I’ve definitely found it really interesting how much shared solidarity [there is] around a frustrated sigh about the presidential election,” Syedah said.

In her conversations with students, she said that many who have traditionally affiliated with a political party are concerned with their party’s choice of candidate. They feel confused and afraid that their party no longer speaks for their beliefs.

“There has been a very genuine and honest concern about just the state of politics as a whole,” Syedah said.
She cited the abnormally large amount of people who just don’t care about the result enough to feel it is worth registering to vote. Even more distressing is the amount of people who feel disenfranchised by their voting options.

Syedah herself has to deal with this concern. In a Facebook post in early October, she stated her feelings about the presidential race: “The current major party nominees for President of the United States are both individuals whose candidacy is a direct attack on me and members of my family and community.”

“Politics are personal, and I am willing to defend that statement against anyone who believes otherwise,” Syedah said about her post. “The rhetoric adopted by parties and people is something that has a direct and constant influence on our lives.”

To combat the apathy and distress, Syedah and MSA have focused their discussions with students on the importance of the other elections taking place.

“Every vote matters. This isn’t about the presidential election. This is about everyone else that’s on the ticket,” Syedah said, adding, “There are normal people…who are completely palatable human beings who are running for office in our areas.”

She explained that redirecting attention to these lower ballot candidates has helped to mitigate the concerns students have about feeling disconnected from their party and the political process because of the presidential race.

“It did work in my experience to remind people,” Syedah said, “Every time your tuition goes up, that’s related to bonding and budgetary requests from the university to the legislature.”

MSA intends to continue their efforts to get voters registered and to the booths by targeting residence halls, getting students to vote early, and pushing professors to be lenient on absences due to voting.

“Election day is not an excused absence because you can vote early,” Syedah said, who herself disagrees with the policy. “I think election day should be a federal holiday…we are one of the only democracies in the world that doesn’t do that.”