By Steve Simon
I once saw a T-shirt while walking in a parade in Rochester that caught my attention. It said, “Failure to vote is not an act of rebellion; it’s an act of surrender.”
That phrase has stuck with me as secretary of state, and it’s especially important for Tuesday as we celebrate National Voter Registration Day.
For those who don’t know, National Voter Registration Day is a nonpartisan voter registration awareness campaign to encourage voter participation and increase awareness about how to register to vote.
It was created in 2012, and this year, Minnesota is playing a bigger role than ever.
Not only is this the first year our state has officially proclaimed Voter Registration Day in Minnesota, but I’m one of two secretaries representing the nation’s secretaries of state on the National Voter Registration Day steering committee. I couldn’t be more honored and enthusiastic about the work ahead of us.
We all know Minnesotans are some of the most civically engaged citizens in the nation, and we are proud of that distinction.
But we still have work to do.
While Minnesota has more than 3.1 million registered voters, there are an additional 800,000 citizens who are eligible but have not yet registered to vote. In Olmsted County alone, there are more than 17,000 citizens who are eligible to vote but aren’t registered. Some of them may be your neighbors, co-workers, family or friends.
Why don’t people register to vote?
Many don’t register simply because they lead busy lives, or they face a foreign language barrier, or they believe the process is complicated and confusing. The list of reasons goes on.
But the voter registration process in Minnesota is actually easier and more convenient than ever.
Voter registration applications are available at every state agency, all 87 county offices throughout the state, and online in English, Hmong, Russian, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese.
For Minnesotans who don’t want to deal with the hassle of filling out paperwork, they can register to vote from the comfort of their own home by going online to mnvotes.org.
In fact, Minnesotans can register to vote at the polls on Election Day or when applying for or renewing their driver’s license.
We should be doing everything we can to make sure our neighbors know they have these options, and we should keep working to make the voter registration process in Minnesota even easier.
One of my top priorities as secretary of state is to increase civic participation among young people, and that’s why I support what’s called pre-registration for high school-aged students.
Pre-registration would allow 16- and 17-year-olds the ability to pre-register to vote, so when they turn 18, they’re already registered. This is not only a great way to make the voter registration process easier for young people, but it will help get good habits started early.
Nearly half the states already allow some form of pre-registration for high school-aged students, and studies have shown that it can increase voter turnout anywhere from 8 to 13 percent. It just makes common sense.
Let’s remember what that T-shirt in Rochester said, “Failure to vote is not an act of rebellion; it’s an act of surrender.”
This year, our nation is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which makes National Voter Registration Day 2015 even more significant.
Before the Voting Rights Act, many states openly suppressed the votes of millions of African-Americans and other communities of color. Barriers of all kinds existed to deny citizens the right to register to vote: poll taxes, “character tests,” literacy tests and intimidation.
The Voting Rights Act put an end to all of those barriers and guaranteed every eligible citizen the right to register to vote.
We must not surrender that right. We must stay restless until every eligible citizen is registered to vote and uses that vote as their voice.
If you do one thing on National Voter Registration Day — register to vote if you aren’t already and then ask your neighbor, your co-worker or your friend, “I’m registered to vote. Are you?”
Steve Simon is Minnesota’s secretary of state.