By Meghan Trimble
November 3 is the 2020 election, which means it is time to vote! Although it may seem like a small and insignificant activity, it is actually an extremely important civic duty. It is also not just a temporary event that occurs every four years. Local elections occur annually, which means that some people use their voting rights at many points in their lifetime.
Unfortunately, with a voting percentage of 11.6, the college age demographic has one of the smallest voting percentages in the country. For many students, this has to do with the fact that many do not know where to begin. As new voters, we are often sent into elections without any prior knowledge of where, when and what to do. This can make it pretty difficult to find any motivation to get to the polls at all. However, it is essential that we use our voting rights since these elections determine our future.
If you are interested in voting but aren’t sure where to start, have no fear! Here is an essential guide to voting as college students, and a Bemidji-oriented guide for experienced voters who have recently moved to the area.
How Do I Vote?
Before finding your poll, you must register to vote. Voting Registration has some requirements, which means that you must be a U.S. citizen, you must be 18 years of age or older, you must not have been convicted of any felony and you must be a Minnesota resident for at least 20 days. You can register online, by-mail or in person on Election Day. The application process is usually very simple, necessary for confirming your identification. Once you are registered, you will be assigned a polling location and asked to continue onto the next stage.
Is There Anything That I Need To Bring?
New voters registering on Election Day must bring a valid form of ID. These include your driver’s license, a photo ID or a passport. Due to COVID-19 guidelines, masks will be required at all polling locations. You do not need to bring any form of ID if you registered online or if your ID was verified when registering by mail. It may not be a bad idea to bring a personal list of your prospective candidates (Just be sure that you keep it to yourself, voting must be confidential), otherwise, everything related to your ballot will be provided once you arrive (i.e. pens, ballot and desk).
Where Do I Vote?
Your poll address will vary depending on location, county, and personal address. You will receive your polling address once you are finished with registration. In Bemidji, the primary polling locations for the 2020 election will be the American Indian Resource Center, The Boys and Girls Club of the Bemidji Area, the Bemidji National Guard Armory, the City Hall, and Northwest Technical College. Anyone staying in the dorms will receive an email prior to voting day detailing where their polling place will be located, as it will be different for each dorm. If you want to find your polling place based on your home address, go to this website: https://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us
What Do I Do When I Get There?
When you arrive at your polling location, volunteers will escort you to same day registration or check in. Once your identity is verified, you will be led to a ballot guard where you will privately vote for your specified candidate. If you have any specific questions upon arrival, volunteers will be happy to help you, especially if you are a first time voter!
What if I Don’t Want to Vote In-Person?
No worries, that’s what Absentee Voting is for! Also known as a Mail Ballot, an Absentee Ballot is another option for voters who cannot necessarily make it to their polling location in-person. Many people use this option when they know that they will be out of town, unavailable or unable to make it to their polling location due to accessibility obstacles. To request an Absentee Ballot, fill out an application online or by mail. Once that is processed, an official Ballot will be mailed to your local home address. Make sure that you complete your ballot in a private, secured location. Follow the directions closely, double check your information, and send it back in the mail. Your ballot will be processed at a voting center where your vote will be tallied. If you are still confused about Absentee voting, here are the steps you will need to take:
- Go to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Website and fill out an application: https://mnvotes.sos.state.mn.us/ABRegistration/ABRegistrationStep1.aspx You can also fill out a paper application and mail it using this link: https://www.sos.state.mn.us/media/2444/english-regular-absentee-ballot-application.pdf
- The deadline to receive a ballot by mail is November 2, so it’s extremely important to fill out your application as soon as possible.
- You should receive a package including your ballot after a few business days. Follow the directions closely as you fill it out.
- Make sure that you are not sharing your ballot information with anyone. Take your package straight to the post office (your ballot will include pre-paid stamp with a return envelope) and submit your vote.
Remember, no matter what you think, your vote matters! The important decisions we make for our country will affect us, so it’s important to practice our civic duty. Now that you know what to do, get registered, find your poll, and fill out your ballot. Happy voting, Beavers!