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Making It Count

by Stacey Kaslon, Hannah Cook, Ian Douglass, Shawn Campbell, Sean Kieselhorst, Tyrell Branchaud & Micah Friez

BSU students sat crowded around the election registration table Tuesday night as three elderly women helped them through their stacks of paperwork. Two hours before the polls closed, they frantically tried to register to vote. The sound of rickety, plastic voting booths and the occasional hushed tone of a judge, echoed throughout the domed gathering room aptly bringing students of different political views together to participate in the American democracy.

Bemidji State University students were casting their votes at the American Indian Resource Center and at other polling stations across Bemidji. Though many people’s concerns was on the presidential race, Bemidji’s local election included races that hit a little closer to home. Running in the city council race, Michael Meehlhause (Ward 1) and Ron Johnson (Ward 3) were elected without contest while Don Heinonen and incumbent Nancy Erickson duked it out for Ward 5 with Erickson retaining her seat. In the mayoral race both seasoned politicians, Richard Lehmann and incumbent Rita Albrecht, went head to head with Albrecht winning.

Ward 1’s polling station head judge, Kaitlyn Grahm, noted that, though student turnout was similar to the last election, something was new, a sort of passion that drove them to the polls.

“My vote needed to count,” said Samantha Larson, a junior in the social work program. “It means security for my family and my friends so that they won’t be forced to change or hide who they are.” Larson was one of many students who felt that it was a moral imperative to participate in this year’s election.

Meehlhause agreed noting, “I think it’s important that everyone is educated on the issues and what is going on in their city, and I think with BSU students in particular. I’ve always had the sense that even if some of them move on after they graduate there’s a sense that their making decisions that the students that replace them will have to live with.”

Citizens of Bemidji MN sit and enjoy food while watching and listening to the 2016 presidential election at the Republican election watch party. Photo by Tyrell Branchaud.

With important issues of housing, parking, pedestrian safety and acceptance of diversity on the table, the future of Bemidji was up in the air. This was not a feeling lost on Albrecht, who echoed students thoughts by advocating for housing and diversity changes. Albrecht said on several occasions, that experiencing the dorms while attending BSU gave her a personal connection to how students felt about housing. Additionally, she noted that her friendly relationship with new BSU president Faith Hersrud gives her an opportunity to expand diversity on and off the BSU campus.

Students were not only at the polls, but they were at the DFL and Republican election-night watch parties to share their support, as well.

Sarah Erickson, a junior business administration major who was at the Republican election-night party, said,“I’m just trying to show my support. I guess there really isn’t a direct reason other than meeting other people who support the same thing as I do, and loving America.”

Citizens of Bemidji MN watch and listen to the 2016 presidential election while conversing and enjoying food at the Democratic Farmer Labor election watch party. Photo by Shawn Campbell.

Cole Hegg, a junior accounting major at the DFL election-night watch party who volunteered with the party this semester said, “Elections are really important for shaping policy.”

Current Minnesota State Senator, Rod Skoe, an important player in shaping these policies who made an appearance at the DFL party, said, “When we’re done with this, set your differences aside and govern. We can’t afford to carry this on and on. We have big stuff to focus on, put the partisan’s aside and focus on the bigger issues.”