New automatic online voter registration system introduced at UCLA
Voting locations across Westwood will now be consolidated to Ackerman Union Grand Ballroom, a well-known space on campus. (Daily Bruin file photo)
By Megana Sekar
Sept. 21, 2018 1:53 a.m.
UCLA is one of the first universities in the nation to offer automatic and completely online voter registration to its students.
MyUCLA will autofill a California voter registration form with each eligible student’s name and information and send it to the California Secretary of State’s office beginning in fall quarter. Students will be prompted to double-check the information and will also be able to choose whether to register in Los Angeles or in their home districts.
Rafi Sands, a UCLA alumnus who helped create the tool, said the technology has been in the works for two years following an agreement between the University of California and the California Secretary of State office.
“It started at a very high level with Gov. (Jerry) Brown encouraging UCs to increase voter registration,” he said. “It’s been a really fun project on the policy level, to see it go from high up all the way to the (information technology) level.”
Sands, the 2016-2017 Undergraduate Students Association Council external vice president, added he hopes the tool will be rolled out at all UC campuses over the next year.
“On the system-wide level, it’s a great idea in theory, but each campus is unique in terms of how students vote and their circumstances,” he said.
Sultan Jinnah, a program analyst in UCLA’s information technology services department, led the team that created the technology and said he wants to share the technological aspects of the tool with other UC campuses.
He added the tool will include reminder pop-ups on students’ myUCLA accounts before each election’s registration deadline.
Sands said he thinks the tool will help increase young voter turnout, which has historically been much lower than other age demographics.
“The development of this portal took 400 hours from just IT itself. The goal is once our system picks up it could be a model,” he said. ”Now that we’ve been … the first university to build a custom tool, our team can show other campuses.”
Sands added he thinks it is not enough for students to just be registered because they still need to show up to vote.
“The challenge is having the momentum going after (the 2016 presidential) election, and channeling that motivation into something that will create change,” he said.
Another way UCLA will encourage voting is to allow all students to vote at Ackerman Union, as opposed to having multiple voting locations across Westwood, campus and the Hill, according to Sands. This initiative began with the June state primary elections.
Stephanie Batres, a second-year public affairs student, said she thinks a voter registration tool will save time and allow students to focus on who they will cast their votes for.
“Students think registering to vote is a confusing process. With this, they won’t have to drive to the (Department of Motor Vehicles), or mail anything in,” she said.
Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement that these changes aim to inspire students to be civically engaged throughout their college careers and beyond.
“College is a time and place where many young people first get involved in causes that matter to them, and it is our responsibility to facilitate engagement with those causes and the electoral process in particular,” Block said in the statement.
Batres added she thinks the effort to streamline the voting process will increase turnout.
“When voting at Ackerman, there really wasn’t much of a wait, they made it pretty easy for everyone,” she said. “I hope seeing the crowds at such a central campus building draws people in to exercise their rights and vote.”