Mayoral race literature just litter

After the Minnesota mayoral elections Nov. 3, paper residue remains in the streets, where the literature will probably stay until the spring thaw.

The night before Election Day, I walked back to my apartment a few blocks from campus to find not one, but three different leaflets slapped under my car windshield, urging me to get out and vote the following day.

I looked down the block and every car was hit. Some were still attached to windshields, but others whipped around aimlessly in the wind.

Aside from my obvious contempt for the act of anonymous littering, I couldn’t help but think about how many hundreds, if not thousands, of these glossy leaflets would either be blown off the windshield or would simply be tossed aside by an annoyed car owner.

In a predominantly college neighborhood, and near a school whose on-campus polling station was a ghost town, how effective or necessary was it to put these pamphlets on every single car in Merriam Park?

It’s understood that political campaigns cost millions of dollars, and much of that money gets used for things like flyers, buttons, letters, phone banks and lawn signs. But in a time when environmentally conscious issues are supported across party lines, I find it hard to justify leaving trash bags full of paper in the city’s streets.

There has to be an alternative. Luckily for me on Election Day I was able to ask one of the trash sources about the issue face-to-face.

I was discussing this issue with a few friends in the Grill about the absurdity of blanketing our already clean neighborhood when St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who was encouraging the college demographic to cast their vote, approached us while proudly wearing a “I Voted” sticker on his suit’s left lapel.

After a handshake and some encouragement, I asked Mayor Coleman if I could ask him a question, too. Although hesitant at first – I don’t think he was ready for a question from any Grill patrons – he accepted. I asked him if he thought it was really a good idea to handout the campaign materials if most of them would end up in the streets.

He looked for a second and said, “Well, that’s a really good point. I see where you are coming from. It is the best way to get the word out.”

From there he started talking about tweeting and that’s where he lost me. I told him thank you and promised I would vote.

I shouldn’t call it a “cop out,” but I certainly didn’t get the answer I was looking for. And if the conclusion is “it is the best way to get the word out,” maybe this column is a lost cause.

Minnesota led the country in voter turnout between 2004 and 2008. And according to Augsburg College, Minnesota is the most civically active state in the country. With these numbers it would appear that most registered voters are well aware of when and who to vote for, and they will know it before they are forced to recycle.

It’s not an overnight solution to alter a common form of traditional campaigning in the United States, but as our resources diminish and environmental issues are part of the political discussion, it may be time for a change. Nowhere on Mayor Coleman’s Web site does it list his support for any environmental issues. But if he wants to keep his city as clean and beautiful as it is, maybe he should be the one to set the example.

Matt Linden can be reached at

4 Replies to “Mayoral race literature just litter”

  1. and on that note, can someone please throw away my issue of The Servant every month for me?
    I agree with you Matt, it’s a waste of paper, time, money, etc. for them to put fliers on windshields. It really IS the best way to get the word out, but it’s still annoying and wasteful. Twitter or facebook or something WOULD be a better way to get the word out, but not everyone uses those, especially a lot of the people who are voting for these people. It’s kind of one of those situations where ther’es no real GOOD answer… maybe they could at least print them on a more biodegradable paper with environmentally friendly inks though. At least then they wouldn’t be having as much of a negative effect on things….

  2. “When someone hands you a flyer, it’s like they’re saying here you throw this away.” -Mitch Hedberg

  3. Voters and candidates alike should check out Jim Read’s book Doorstep Democracy. Jim, a political scientist and recent Minnesota transplant at the time, found himself unwittingly running as a candidate for Minnesota legislature in a district overwhelmingly favoring the other party. He only lost by 98 votes, and attributes much of his surprising support to the personal contact with voters he gained by personally visiting the majority of households in the district. While distributing fliers and making robo-calls may be the way to reach the highest number of potential voters, investing time in doorknocking is more rewarding for both the candidate and the voter.

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