UMM students: Senate votes vital even as race drags on
By Karrah Anderson
St. Paul Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL - Minnesotans may be sick of hearing about the seemingly never-ending U.S. Senate election, recount and, now, trial, but many say that in the end it may produce more confidence in the electoral system.
"Knowing how close it is, makes it clear each vote matters and is significant," said John Jones, a University of Minnesota, Morris elementary education sophomore.
Becca Baldridge a UMM biology sophomore, feels the same way, realizing most of the U.S. Senate trial arguments deal with absentee ballots that were not counted.
"I'm from Vadnais Heights and I voted absentee." Baldridge said. "I want my vote to count."
"It's gotten to the point where even the diehards are burned out," said Pat Donnay, Bemidji State University political science professor.
But, he said, Minnesotans now know the system values every vote.
"This has been tedious and slow, but there really aren't too many complaints," Donnay said. "There are no allegations of impropriety and partisanship. We're erring on the side of accuracy to the point of mind-numbing tedium."
Democrat Al Franken's attempt to unseat Republican Norm Coleman began in 2007, with national publicity because of Franken's history as a "Saturday Night Live" performer and writer. Interest accelerated as the election neared, with the two candidates spending the most of any Senate race last year.
The election ended in a near tie and a statewide recount of 2.9 million ballots followed. Coleman challenged the returns and the resulting trial, now stretching into its sixth week, is beginning to wear on at least some Minnesotans.
With an ongoing trial and incessant news coverage, the Senate race continues to drag on in Minnesota, but how is this impacting Minnesotans' interest in politics?
Some students have heard enough, Samantha Esguerra said during a recent Capitol visit.
"What is Coleman doing?" asked Esguerra, a sophomore in studio art at the University of Minnesota Morris. "Is power that important? I'm tired of it - not more interested."
"It doesn't affect my interest in the political system," added Michael McBride, a Morris political science sophomore. "But I've been actively following the trial."
McBride sees no long-term impact of the Senate race.
"It isn't going to shake anyone's political identity," McBride said. "Six years from now, no one will remember the recount."
But six years from now it could be on the minds of voters, suggested Donnay, professor of American politics and campaign finance.
"If Coleman loses and runs for Senate or governor again," Donnay said, "then we might see a difference in voter interest."
But other than that, he is on the same side as McBride.
Donnay said that the significant impact of this recount and trial is the effect it will have on third-party candidates, such as Dean Barkley, who finished third to Coleman and Franken.
"There are additional obstacles for third parties," Donnay said. "Voters will look at Barkley and how the votes could have been for major parties. Third party candidates will have to convince people where their vote might have made a difference."
"Every vote counts" is on students' minds, too.
Eric Fought of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said people know their vote counted because of this recount.
"It certainly highlights if anyone has ever questioned if their vote will count," Fought said. "They know now."
Fought was not sure how this Senate race will impact Minnesotans' interest in politics, but offered that it would be in a positive way. "I don't expect any negative affects."
Fought said the recount has been handled transparently, allowing Minnesotans to retain trust in the system.
"There is a lot of trust and confidence in this process because the process is fair and transparent," Fought said. "Not only in the election, but also the recount."
Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey said any impact will be seen on the local level.
"I think it will trickle down and, hopefully, benefit local elections," Carey said. "People are going to realize that every vote is important."
Some Minnesotans hearing news about the recount and trial may be kicking themselves now. "There is probably some remorse," Cary said for those who chose not to vote.
Anderson is a University of Minnesota journalism student who writes for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau.