Saturday, August 24

Chris Busco: New voting plan apt but may disenfranchise students if poorly executed

UCLA is making the Ackerman Grand Ballroom the centralized polling location for students. The change would streamline voter registration, but at the cost of long lines. (Daily Bruin file photo)

UCLA is making the Ackerman Grand Ballroom the centralized polling location for students. The change would streamline voter registration, but at the cost of long lines. (Daily Bruin file photo)

UCLA students are ready to demand action on Capitol Hill after a politically tumultuous year and a half. The midterm elections give them a perfect opportunity to do so.

If they can reach the ballot box, that is.

Voting at UCLA is notoriously a nightmare. In previous years, the university administration worked with the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk to provide a total of 10 polling locations to serve the campus community, including the North Village area. There was one clear takeaway from the 2016 election, however: The system for student voting was broken. Despite the many stations, students faced long wait times two years ago and many ended up showing up to the wrong polling locations because of complicated voter registration procedures when they went to cast their votes.

In response, UCLA worked with the Los Angeles County registrar to condense the four polling locations on the Hill to the Ackerman Grand Ballroom. UCLA also worked with the University of California and state government to create an online portal to simplify student voter registration.

These are much-needed changes to streamline voting at UCLA. But they come with a catch: long lines. UCLA will need to heed these concerns in the transition to a centralized student voting location.


Rafi Sands, the UC student advisor who helped implement the poll station change, said the change is meant to make the voting process, which is designed with the needs of single-family households in mind, easier for students. The previous voting system did not take into account the yearly mobility of students and the logistical difficulties of needing to change voter registration addresses multiple times.

Sands went on to lay out the University’s plan for streamlining voting for UCLA students, which he termed a grand vision: It starts with an online voter registration portal stemming from a Memorandum of Understanding which lays out a formal commitment for the UC and the state government to increase student voter participation. The memorandum is part of an initiative called “The California Students Vote Project.”

This portal would allow students living on the Hill to easily register to vote online with their on-campus addresses. While this portal will roll out before the June primary, the goal is to have it fully integrated with the New Student Orientation process by summer 2019 so incoming freshman are registered to vote before they even start classes, said Sands.

All students registered to vote on the Hill would vote at one superstation in Ackerman Grand Ballroom, and the administration will encourage students to maintain that voter address for their entire UCLA career. That means, no matter where a student moves, they would continue to vote in Ackerman Grand Ballroom, thus streamlining the voting process for students who could end up changing addresses every year because of housing conditions.

There’s a clear reason for keeping the location consistent. Karen Hedges, UCLA’s deputy director for student and campus life, said many students were confused when it came time to register to vote on the Hill in 2016. While all buildings on the Hill fall under the same mailing address, they have different physical addresses. Despite the university’s efforts to educate students about this disparity, Hedges said many students still ended up marking the Hill mailing address as their physical address when they registered to vote. This resulted in many students finding themselves absent from the voter list when they went to vote. This is further compounded by the fact that many students do not change their voting address when they move off the Hill to the North Village, Hedges added.

The Ackerman Grand Ballroom voting station can alleviate these concerns.

“It’s an opportunity for the campus to provide a centralized polling location for everyone. So, you don’t have to ask aquestion, or stand in the wrong line,” Hedges said. “It’s about convenience.”

However, such a massive reorganization comes with complications. With more than 11,000 students on the Hill alone – not to mention the thousands of other students who live off-campus and can register to vote at Ackerman Union – students are bound to be waiting in line for a long time. Though Ackerman Grand Ballroom is large, the voting student body is far larger than the facility’s maximum capacity of 2,200 people. Moreover, that number doesn’t take into account the space taken up by equipment, tables, polling booths and poll workers.

In other words, while this central location is convenient for student voter registration, the possibility of long wait times could deter registered students from casting their ballots at all.

There are ways to beat the lines, though. UCLA can work with the Los Angeles County registrar to open more rooms in Ackerman Union to accommodate registered student voters. While UCLA is effectively trading shorter lines for improved voter registration, using the Bruin Viewpoint Lounge and the Bruin Reception Room in the Union in addition to the Grand Ballroom can help make the administration’s plan logically feasible.

This is not to say the voting station changes are bad. In fact, they will streamline the voting process and make it less confusing for students, many of whom are first-time voters, to cast their ballots and make their voices heard in the next election.

However, these changes come with logistical issues that the administration must be cognizant of in order to truly succeed in making voting an easier process on campus.

After our last presidential election, the students took to the streets. Now, the administration needs to make sure they get to polls.

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Opinion columnist

Busco is an Opinion columnist and a staff representative on the Daily Bruin Editorial Board.

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