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Rock the Vote - CLC encourages students to vote, meet local candidates

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Central Lakes College student Grant Zupko completes his voter registration Tuesday, Sept. 25, with the help of Sally Jacobsen, of the League of Women Voters. CLC hosted a "Rock the Vote" event to encourage students to register and let them meet local candidates. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch video2 / 2

Free food and live music are almost sure-fire ways to get college students' attention.

The Central Lakes College Student Senate employed those tactics to encourage fellow students to register as voters Tuesday, Sept. 25, dubbed National Voter Registration Day.

"We really want to see college students looked at as a group that's a force for candidates and parties to go after to get their vote," CLC Director of Student Life Erich Heppner said Tuesday, noting more student involvement can help make sure issues important to them—like student loan debt—are on candidates' minds.

About 200 students registered to vote Tuesday during the school's "Rock the Vote" event, where they also got to rub elbows with local and state candidates. Heppner said many pledged to vote as well, meaning they gave out their contact information and consented to be contacted closer to election time with a reminder to vote. That way, students don't just register but may be actually compelled to go the polls Nov. 6.

After looking at student voting data from the last couple election years, Heppner said CLC's numbers aren't bad but can definitely be improved upon.

"I think the best way to do that is by holding voter registration events, finding ways to get students to the polls early," he added. "Studies have shown that if you can get someone in college to turn into a voter at an early age that it will turn them into a lifelong voter. And instead of waiting until someone's 50, 60 years old to get involved in the civic process, we'd really like to see that happen earlier."

Local candidates agreed about the goal of the event being to encourage students to vote and not necessarily to garner votes for themselves.

"I represent a district in the county that's not close to here, so the number of actual students that will vote in my district or will see my name on the ballot probably is pretty limited," Crow Wing County District 2 Commissioner Paul Thiede said. "So I'm just here to encourage (voting)."

Bill Brekken, another District 2 commission candidate, had similar thoughts.

"I just really think it's good to get the students actively involved in wanting to vote," Brekken said. "And I think when you can reach out to them and bring it to their environment rather than make it an effort for them, it makes it a lot easier."

That convenience of registering to vote on campus resonated with student Ron Fink, who said if it weren't for the easy access, many students might not take the initiative.

Grant Zupko, another student who took the opportunity to register Tuesday, liked the engaging element of the event where voters could interact with candidates and come to understand the importance of hitting the polls.

Though "Rock the Vote" was the CLC student senate's main election event, Heppner said there will be other events to help students register before Nov. 6.

"We don't care who they vote for," Heppner said. "We just want them to vote."