As the largest generation alive in this country, young people have the potential to greatly influence politics.
They also have the lowest voter turnout of any age group.
According to a report by The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, about 45% of UCLA students turned out to the polls for the 2018 midterms.
Students’ lives are characterized by instability – frequent address changes and changing schedules – that complicate the registration and voting process. Even minor obstacles are often enough to discourage students from registering and voting.
But a new California bill has to potential to change that. Senate Bill 72, which passed in October 2019, has important implications for boosting the student vote and is a step in the right direction to achieving the goal of 100% voter participation at UCLA. This bill allows any eligible voter to register on Election Day, so those who were not able to register by the deadline can still cast a provisional ballot.
“The thing is, there are a lot of barriers that first-time voters and college students face when it comes to voting,” said Elisa Chang, a student and California Public Interest Research Group’s New Voters Project coordinator at UC Riverside. “There’s a general lack of information around important voting deadlines and students also constantly change their address without knowing that they have to re-register to vote every time.”
“We worked really hard to help register over 2,000 students to vote here on our campus and then get them to turn out to the polls,” said Kathryn Gonzalez-Valle, a fourth-year history student and state board treasurer of UCLA CALPIRG. “Unfortunately, we had to turn a lot of students away who were not registered in LA county or who knew about same-day voter registration but did not know that the closest same-day voter registration site was in Norwalk.”
CALPIRG’s New Voters Project is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan, field-based, youth voter mobilization. Last year, CALPIRG Students helped collect 220 student leader sign-ons in support of SB 72 and had two students testify in Sacramento about the importance of the bill in encouraging the student vote.
“SB 72 helps address the unique barriers that college students face when it comes to voting by removing registration deadlines as potential barriers,” Chang said. “Having same-day conditional voter registration helps us ensure that we don’t turn away students on election day because of something as simple as not being registered to vote.”
CALPIRG’s New Voters Project worked with UCLA’s voting coalition BruinsVOTE! to help over 2,000 students at UCLA register to vote in 2018. BruinsVOTE! also works with the Undergraduate Students Association Council Office of the External Vice President and other on-campus student groups, facilities and staff to make registration and voting as easy and accessible as possible for students.
“A same-day conditional voter registration site would make voting accessible to students in a new and exciting way,” said Emma Barudi, a third-year economics and political science student with the USAC EVP’s office. “I’m excited to see more students exercise their right to vote, making the student voice a larger part of our elections and democracy.”
Despite a history of low voter turnout among young people, the momentum for youth political engagement is building. The 2018 midterm elections marked a historical high in 18- to 29-year-old voters, with a turnout of 36% compared to only 20% in the 2014 midterms – the largest percentage point increase of any age group. At UCLA, turnout increased by over 300%.
“A great deal of work has been put in over several years by student groups like CALPIRG students and the BruinsVOTE! coalition to mobilize and encourage college students to vote,” said Karen Hedges, deputy director of campus life for UCLA Student Affairs. “Student turnout has increased, and it’s only going to go up,” she continued. “I am looking forward to the 2020 elections – both the primary and the general – where Bruins will continue showing up and voting.”
The youth vote is surging as more and more students are recognizing the importance of being represented in the political process.
SB 72 is an exciting first step in facilitating the voting process for students, but we must take further steps toward creating a culture around voting on college campuses. While getting more students registered and to the polls on Election Day matters, increasing civic engagement among young people throughout the entire year is of utmost importance. The new vote center at Ackerman Union will play a key role in institutionalizing voting on our campus. Next steps will be to further embed voting into orientation, move-in days, websites and other portals, making civic engagement a part of campus life.
Students that are more politically engaged will turn out to the polls better informed and excited to vote.
Bruins have the power to shape the future we’re going to inherit – and it starts with getting our voices represented in the political process. It starts with our vote.
Natsoulis is a fourth-year human biology and society student and a volunteer with CALPIRG New Voters Project campaign.