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Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon visits Bemidji High School

Students at Bemidji High School received a special visit from Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, where discussed elections and the importance of voting.

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Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon speaks to Bemidji High School students about voter turnout as part of his 87-county tour on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, at BHS.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — Students at Bemidji High School received an exciting visit from Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon on Wednesday as a part of his tour across the state to visit and meet with different communities.

Gathered in a lecture hall, students from some of the high school’s advanced placement classes had the opportunity to listen to Simon as he discussed elections, democracy and the importance of voting.

“To me, all roads lead to the ballot box,” Simon shared. “I always say your vote is not just your voice, it’s your power.”

After providing a brief explanation of what his job entails, outlining his office’s role in elections and business, Simon went on to ask the students their perspective on some key challenges — namely voter participation in younger populations.

“It’s no secret that young people tend to vote at much lower rates than people who are older,” Simon said, “that’s across the board everywhere in America. If it were easy to solve, it would have been solved.”

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Bemidji High School students listen to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon speak as part of his 87-county tour on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, at BHS.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Simon asked the students about their thoughts on the issue, and then shared some common themes he’s come across about the topic.

No matter where he goes in the state, Simon explained that young voters, typically defined as ranging from 18 to 29, share similar concerns with him. These concerns range from feeling uninformed about candidates and their positions to feeling disillusioned with politics.

For the first issue, Simon emphasized to the students that there’s no shame in only voting for the races where they feel informed and that once they gain the right to vote even using it for only part of their ballot can make a difference.

“Go in and vote on the stuff you do know,” Simon said. “In a perfect world, would I want you and every Minnesotan to vote in every contest? Of course, but until then, don’t let your lack of familiarity with every single contest interfere with letting your voice be heard on the ones you do have an opinion on.”

For those who feel disillusioned and frustrated with politics, Simon empathized but still stressed that voting can make a difference and likened not voting to a form of surrender.

“It’s easy to be frustrated with politics. I am. We all are,” Simon said, “(but) don’t give up that voice, don’t give up that power…people who vote get listened to, and communities who vote get attention.”

During the last portion of his time, Simon took questions from the students. Some students asked about the details of his job and campaigning, while others wanted to know more about how Minnesota’s elections are protected and secured.

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Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon speaks to Bemidji High School students as part of his 87-county tour on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, at BHS.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“Part of it is demystifying and being clear about what the (election) system is,” Simon shared. “I’m convinced that when people come to understand our election system as it is, and not as it’s been too often falsely portrayed, they will come away with a ton of confidence.”

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Much of Simon’s tour, which goes through 87 counties, is to have those conversations with Minnesotans of every background, from high school students to civic organizations.

“It’s up to us and others who do democracy work to get out there and talk about it, answer questions about voter fraud and ‘Why should I vote?’ and just about the system and its security and integrity,” Simon explained. “Because if we don’t do it, no one else is necessarily going to do it.”

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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