House Elections Committee Discusses Expanded Access to On-Campus Polling Places – Notes from Feb. 14 House Elections Finance and Policy Committee

Notes by Cirien Saadeh, Executive Director and Freelance Journalist

Rep. Kristi Pursell (58A) introduces House File 3447 in a Feb. 14 House Elections Finance and Policy committee meeting. Screenshot by Cirien Saadeh.

Feb. 14: House Elections Finance and Policy committee

HF3447 (Pursell); relating to polling places on college campuses

Rep. Kristi Pursell (58A) moves for the bill to be placed on the General Register.

Rep. Pursell offers a DE2 amendment. 

No discussion on the DE2 amendment

Rep. Pursell introduces HF2447

  • ‘House File 3447 is an opportunity to ensure more college students are able to cast a ballot and perhaps for the first time. The first time I was eligible to vote, I remember how excited I was to have a voice in our state’s future and in our democracy. Participating in Minnesota politics is a great way to increase student’s interest and engagement in the future of Minnesota.” 
  • “Regardless of where college students live, if they’re eligible, students do have the right to vote.”
  • “Currently some postsecondary schools host Election Day polling places, many do not. This bill proposes that, if requested, one day of early voting could be requested on campuses with 1500 or more students.” 
  • “House File 3447 will remove proven barriers to participation: information, transportation, and time, for young adults in colleges of all kinds of institutions across Minnesota.” 
  • “Given that young adults are least likely to own a car and many 18 and 19-year olds do not even have a driver’s license, it can be very difficult for them to even reach early voting and Election Day voting sites.” 
  • “I am excited that this bill will expand participation, as well as access, by the newest voters, young adults, and in doing so will promote lifelong voter participation, a habit that will continue their whole adult lives.” 

Public Testimony

Ben Reimler, Director of Government Relations for Students United

  • “With many excited and engaged voters on our campuses, Students United is committed to strengthening and improving Minnesota’s election laws for future generations. This is why we encouraged lawmakers to enact automatic voter registration, the pregregistration of 16 and 17 year olds, and expanded access to the ballot by allowing voters to choose to vote by mail last session. We were proud to see these provisions become law last year, but we know that more work needs to be done.”
  • “In fact, before the transformative changes made during last year’s session, Minnesota has not kept pace with innovative policies that allow for greater access to the ballot box.”
  • “Across our campuses, students are eager to participate in our democracy, but we know that students often face particular challenges in accessing the ballot. For example, young adults are less likely to have their own mode of transportation making it difficult to get to early voting locations which are off-campus.”
    • Says that students also struggle to vote because of work and/or class schedules 

Nicole Freeman, Government Relations Director with the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State 

  • “The Office of the Secretary of State supports efforts to expand access to absentee voting which this bill does by allowing a college or university to request a temporary absentee location on campus.” 
  • “We know that since the adoption of no-excuse-absentee-voting, more Minnesotans are choosing to vote early by absentee ballot. In 2022, nearly 23% of voters chose this method of voting to cast their ballot. And as we know college may be the first time that a person votes. Having an in-person option on campus to vote allows a voter both the convenience of casting a ballot in-person but importantly allows them to work with an election official directly to cast their absentee ballot. They can get their questions answered and ensure they are completing all the materials correctly so that they are confident their ballot will be properly cast and counted.” 

Karina Villeda, Student at University of Minnesota – Twin Cities (previously a student at Inver Hills Community College), representing LEADMN

  • “While just one aspect of civil involvement, voting holds an immense weight in amplifying the voices of the youth and influencing issues relevant to our lives.”
  • “Although historically youth voter turnout has lagged beyond other demographics, recent elections have seen a remarkable surge in participation among young voters. Notably Minnesota voters have led the nation in student voter turnout over the past three elections. However, disparities exist, stemming from unequal access to information; avenues for engagement, particularly across racial-ethnic lines; educational background; geographical regions; and age groups.”

Siya Shelar, Student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, member of the undergraduate student government working closely with the government and legislative affairs team

  • “I am here today to support an amendment to House File 3447 that allows a student government organization of a post-secondary institution to request an additional polling place for at least one day on the institution’s campus.” 
  • “Undergraduate student government represents over 30,000 students  at the University of Minnesota. I urge you to consider the importance of allowing an organization such as ours to be able to request polling places on behalf of all of these students, giving them a platform that would allow them to participate in our democracy without having to make sacrifices for an endeavor that should be easily accessible.” 

Member Discussion

Rep. Ben Davis (6A) 

  • Asks a question to Rep. Pursell about how the bill’s funding 
  • Rep. Pursell responds: 
    • “I believe this would fall under the funding of the county, whoever that local polling institution dictates the polling place.”
  • Rep. Ben Davis responds “an unfunded mandate that counties are going to be responsible for”
  • Rep. Davis asks: “Do college students have the right to vote right now?”
  • Rep. Pursell responds: 
    • “Those who are American citizens, yes. And over the age of 18. And all the other requirements.” 
  • Rep. Davis responds: “We have an unfunded mandate for counties here, when college students already have the right to vote, 46 days to get that done [absentee], but here we’re going to set up a polling place on college campuses that we’re going to expect the counties to take care all the funding and the staffing and the organizing. This is going to increase costs, when they already have a month and a half to vote, already have the right to vote. I think this is very fiscally irresponsible for us, once again, as a state, of wasting taxpayer’s money.” 

Rep. Nathan Coulter (51B)

  • Asks a question to Nicole Freeman about the establishment of an early voting polling location for at least “one day.” 
  • “How is the time that the polling place is on campus agreed upon?”
  • Nicole Freeman responds
    • “The way that the bill reads, it’s an agreement between the county and the institution.” 
    • Says that the minimum requirement, if requested by a post-secondary institution, is one day – and that a county could decide to offer it for longer than one day 

Rep. Pam Altendorf (20A) 

  • Asks a question to Rep. Pursell: “How did you establish the number, 1500?” 
  • Rep. Pursell responds: 
    • Information was gathered via higher education researcher “about how many schools this would apply to.”
    • “I was partial to the 1500 because that includes both of the schools in my district, the smaller of which does not currently offer a polling place on-campus. We went back and forth about what makes sense, that there’s going to be a cost and that really incredible small institutions if they don’t have enough voters is maybe not worth the cost-benefit.” 
  • Rep. Altendorf responds: 
    • “My concern is this, and I wish we would take this into consideration, is we’re saying two different things. We’re saying we care about everyone’s voice and we want everyone to have that opportunity to vote and then on the other end, I very much look at this as this could be a very biased decision of why we’re putting this in here, because smaller schools might tend to lean more conservative.”
    • “My other question would be why are we targeting higher population liberal arts colleges?” 
  • Rep. Pursell responds: 
    • Says the 1500 number can be reconsidered, alongside the Senate
    • “We’re not driving people to vote, we’re offering more accessibility.” 

Rep. Kristin Bahner (37B) 

  • “We do acknowledge that there will potentially be a cost with these things and, if members recall last year, we did approve a voter fund which would allow counties to get assistance with funding these types of activities that allow folks to actively participate in the democratic process, they allow them to have access to polling places in and around where they live, and I think that’s really important to keep in mind  as we weigh this issue.” 
  • “Either way, having that fund is something we felt very strongly about and I also want to say that I don’t think that’s a waste of taxpayer dollars. To make sure that folks have access to participate in what is probably their most critical role as a citizen.” 
  • “It’s important we meet people where they are and I think this bill absolutely does that.”

Rep. Matt Bliss (2B)

  • “It’s something that’s already covered. They have 46 days to vote. It’s going to put an additional cost to the counties.”
  • Question: “What happens if your college spans across multiple precincts?”
  • Rep. Pursell responds: 
    • Says this is data that has been researched, “how many campuses this applies to, how many institutions this applies to
    • “My understanding of how the ward and precinct delineations are made is happening at a local level and so hopefully the idea is this is locally-led to figure that part out.” 
  • Chair Freiberg and Research Department – Staff Coordinator Matt Gehring clarify a response to this question
    • Gehring: “The grammar [in the bill] seems to suggest just a single polling location could be established.” 
  • Rep. Bliss responds
    • Provides an example of Bemidji State campus which existed in two precincts. Says that a single polling place for two precincts would be challenging. “Two sets of ballots and [staff] would have to verify who lives where.”
  • Chair Freiberg calls on Nicole Freeman to respond
    • “Yes, at an early voting location or an in-person temporary location like this, the County would bring all of the ballots for the whole county. So any eligible voter within the county would be eligible to vote at this location as well. So it could theoretically not only serve the students on-campus, but anyone who worked on-campus or lived near campus and wanted to utilize that location, as well.” 
  • Rep. Bliss responds
    • Calls the bill a “logistical nightmare”

Rep. Duane Quam (24A) 

  • Says that a fiscal note should be “pretty easy for fiscal staff to come up” with, “because there is additional equipment that would be needed quickly if you had additional sites.” 
  • “It doesn’t matter the location of the school you’re attending, it’s the location of your residence. I know there are campuses where they have students that are attending that are from different counties, different school districts, different cities, let alone different precincts so the possible number and variation of ballots is extremely complex. The intent I understand but the actual execution would require such a diverse process and quantity of ballots that it might become very problematic.”
  • “Since we do not have a fiscal note, we do not have an idea of the amount of burden we would be putting upon with a dictated must [referring to language in the bill], some counties don’t have huge staffs but they might have within their county one of these institutions or maybe two, and frankly it needs more due diligence before we go forward with implementation of this.” 
  • Says he commends the intent, but he thinks there are “more questions then answers at this time” 

Rep. Paul Torkelson (15B)

  • Question to Chair Freiberg: “Are you in possession of a letter from the Minnesota Association of County Officers regarding their concerns about this bill?”
  • Chair Freiberg responds
    • Says due to a formatting error, it could not be printed or included in the packets, but it was posted on the committee website 
  • Gehring clarifies
    • File was corrupted when submitted. “I took the letter and copied it into Word. I posted it to the website, but there wasn’t time to get it printed for this morning.” 
  • Rep. Torkelson responds
    • Letter should be “copied and printed and accessible to members of this committee.” 
    • “It’s critical of the bill, concerning the costs involved. It feels to me like there’s pressing information that is available to this committee.” 
  • Chair Freiberg responds
    • Formatting things happen. Says anyone is able to pull it up on the committee website. 
  • Rep. Torkelson reads a quote from the letter
    • “A temporary polling place on a post-secondary institution’s campus may be a part of the plan for an efficient and effective election. However it is already authorized under current law and should not become mandated if requested by the institution.”
  • Chair Freiberg responds
    • Says the MACC did not sign up to testify, letter “had a technical problem” but it publicly available and committee all have access
  • Question for Rep. Pursell
    • “In regards to the question of 1500, this number seems rather arbitrary.”
    • “It seems like you’ve picked a number based on your own personal situation. It may not be appropriate for the entire state.” 
  • Chair Freiberg responds
    • Rep. Pursell has already answered this question and he reiterates Rep. Pursell’s earlier comments
  • Rep. Pursell responds
    • “I would be happy to go down to 800. We started at a higher number I think. Happy to continue having that discussion.”
    • “There is nothing that prohibits a smaller-population institution from making the same requested,” [although a positive response would not be required for a smaller school like it would be for a school with over 1500 students]
  • Rep. Paul Torkelson responds
    • “Says “the mandate is the issue here”
    • “I believe counties are responsive to the needs of their constituents and institutions within their borders. This mandate could be costly and seems unnecessary.” 

Closing remarks from Rep. Pursell 

  • “This bill is good policy, it’s good for our young adults, it’s good for our state, it’s good for our democracy.” 
  • “It provides an opportunity to more easily participate and vote for students enrolled in college which is often difficult due to busy academic and work schedules, lack of transportation, etc., etc.” 

Rep. Pursell renews the motion to place House File 3447 on the General Register. 

Vote taken. 

House File 3447 is recommended to be placed on the General Register. 

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