On election day in fewer than 100 days, students will have the opportunity to tell state politicians what they think about California’s treatment of its universities. One would expect immense student organization around the occasion, but choosing the state’s next governor doesn’t seem to be enough to get Bruins riled up.
Californians will hit the polls in June to vote at the gubernatorial primary election to winnow down the field for governor. But apart from a gubernatorial candidate forum held on campus in January and a couple of empty words from candidates about funding higher education, students have had few chances to hear from the candidates for governor and decide who would best address California’s education funding woes.
Students need to be proactive in fighting for an affordable education by closely following the gubernatorial race. If we want a governor who will put our interests first, we need to start paying attention now and pressing candidates on their plans for higher education.
This means eminent campus figures such as Undergraduate Students Association Council members need to start organizing voter drives and educating students about the prospective leaders of the state. College affordability and the University of California’s fiscal solvency are on the line. The student population now more than ever has a role to play as kingmaker, and can’t afford to ignore the gubernatorial primary or general election.
Voters between ages 18 and 29 have consistently had low turnout in midterm elections between 2002 and 2016, ranging from 17 percent to 35 percent as voters get older. Compare that to turnouts of more than 70 percent for voters older than 60.
The push from student leaders to get people registered to vote can’t happen soon enough, especially since the deadline to register to vote in the primaries is May 21.
USAC External Vice President Chloe Pan said her office plans to start a voter registration drive in spring quarter, alongside the launch of an online voter registration portal the UC has been developing over the past year. Pan said she thinks the month of April and about half of May would be enough time to register students or inform them of other registration opportunities.
But the EVP office doesn’t need to wait until an online registration portal goes live before it acts. While the UC online voter registration portal is expected to open in May, the project has seen delays on the back end.
Voter registration campaigns are successful when they encourage students over a significant period of time to get involved in the political system. Two months and the announcement of an online voter registration system aren’t enough to energize students to pay heed to a primary vote that will happen just as spring quarter final exams start up.
Of course, Pan said her office is focused on averting potential tuition hikes under consideration by the UC Board of Regents. And addressing immediate concerns like tuition hikes is important. But the student body needs to take a long-term view on affordable education. Picking the state’s next leader determines the fate of the state’s universities.
Ten months from now, a new governor will lay out the opening bid in the negotiations to fund the UC. Students could be the tipping point in determining who sits at the negotiating table.