Mobilizing New Voters

I didn’t truly understand the importance of voting at all levels of government until my sophomore year of college. Many of my professors focused on the role of the President when discussing our government and how it operates. What I had to discover for myself is the importance of other elected roles that directly impact my community and me.

The first election I was able to vote in was in 2018. As a Government Relations and Communications fellow on the Minnesota Private College Council, I was in a competition to get students to vote from our home college — mine was Hamline University. It seemed like a simple task, but it turned out to be a difficult mission.

College-aged students have one of the lowest turnout rates in elections and tend not to be engaged with local politics. I began having conversations with my peers, asking if they had plans to vote. Many responded, “no, it does not pertain to me” or “I do not have time.”

I was distraught at first, since it takes about 15 minutes to get through the entire voting process. Through conversations I learned, for example, that some people did not think the elections impacted their careers, and others did not know how to vote or who was on the ballot. These young people were not targeted by candidates as possible voters, so they were uninformed about election details.

I was able to educate science students about how funding for research comes from advocacy, and that some politicians would cut funding. I explained to athletes that it is legislators who would pressure the NCAA to change its policy about payments to student athletes.

Across the board, my message was that voting is not simply for those studying political science or involved as activists — politics concerns everyone.

The past five years have been transformative for the Muslim community. Minnesota elected the first Muslim woman to the U.S. House of Representatives, which has encouraged other Muslim women, young women, and more Black, Indigenous, and women of color to run for office.

Elections have tended to be white-centered and male-centric. When I see a young woman of color running for office, I am more inclined to vote and encourage others to participate. Even my brothers, who never really followed an election or candidate, sent me articles related to Kamala Harris’s nomination and Ilhan Omar’s win in the primaries.

It only takes one person to begin to mobilize a community. Everyone 18 years and older needs to know that we can vote early with an absentee ballot, with a curbside ballot, or on election day.

Aaisha Abdullahi (she/her) is a recent graduate from Hamline University. She is a Civic Engagement Coordinator at Reviving Sisterhood. For two years with the Minnesota Private College Council, she was a policy analyst and connected with legislatures to help increase the Minnesota State Grant Program. She is doing research about Muslim youth in sports and navigating ways to decrease barriers in the community.

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