With primary races underway, student political organizations are using the presidential campaign as an opportunity to encourage students to vote on political issues that affect them.
Activism-oriented groups like Vote for Our Future, Bruin Republicans and Bruins for Bernie, as well as the undergraduate student government’s External Vice President’s office and independent students, are implementing plans that aim to improve student voter turnout in the presidential election.
University of California Student Association, an organization that advocates on behalf of University of California students, announced an initiative last weekend that would automatically register students to vote, in an attempt to increase student turnout.
Some students expressed concern for what they called historically low student turnout and a lack of political awareness on campus.
Last year, Joe Jacobson, a third-year economics and political science student, and Steve Charmello, a second-year business economics student, started Vote for Our Future, an organization that aims to register all eligible UCLA students to vote and engage in politics.
Jacobson said he feels UCLA has not prioritized student political engagement at the institutional level. He added his group’s disenchantment with UCLA’s efforts led Vote for Our Future to work with other organizations as a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that supports students to be politically active.
UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said he doesn’t think university administrators have planned any initiatives to increase student voter turnout.
Charmello said Vote for Our Future will produce a video that highlights UCLA students’ experiences with political engagement and how UCLA has shaped them, in addition to hosting voter registration drives and other political events.
Jacobson said he thinks getting students excited about politics requires inspiring them to act on important issues. Charmello added he thinks engaging students is an ongoing process, but the 2016 presidential election is an excellent way to start.
“People don’t vote because they think it doesn’t matter, or they don’t know enough,” Charmello said. “We want to (give them more) information and show (them their votes are) important.”
Jacobson said Vote for Our Future is working with an Undergraduate Students Association Council general representative office to bring The Daily Show’s Jordan Klepper to campus. He added he thinks Klepper could galvanize students into participating in the political system.
Zach Helder, USAC external vice president, said he thinks student voter turnout is low because the effort to register and mobilize voters is difficult to organize. He added he thinks traditional voting registration drives may be ineffective for out-of-state students or those who change addresses frequently, because it could be confusing which elections they can participate in.
Helder said he thinks turnout could increase if presidential candidates put greater emphasis on issues that most strongly affect students. He added he thinks students should both organize to register students and motivate them to vote in elections.
Nicolas Cazalis, external vice president of Bruins for Bernie and second-year political science student, said Bruins for Bernie hosts campaign events such as phone banking opportunities and trips to Nevada to canvas potential voters. He added the group wants to get people excited, but also channel excitement into action.
Some students, such as Jack Lyons, a first-year political science student, said he decided to work independently of student organizations to address what he calls a lack of student engagement on campus.
Two weeks ago, Lyons and Brent Lee, a first-year undeclared social science student, began an online petition while sitting in a history lecture in hopes of bringing Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to speak at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. Lee added they gathered 100 signatures within a day, and have since collected 300.
Lee said he and Lyons have contacted Los Angeles for Bernie, Californians for Bernie and Bruin Democrats to ask their support for the petition, and plan to contact more organizations and hand out more flyers on Bruin Walk to publicize their cause.
“I think there’s a low student turnout because they don’t think (presidential candidates) represent them,” Lyons said. “It would be refreshing to have Bernie Sanders come here to say ‘I support you, I care about you.'”