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Youth vote goes viral

Author: Ilyne Castellanos and Charlotte West

Castellanos, Ilyne, and Charlotte West. “Youth Vote Goes Virtual.” Voices of Monterey Bay, 23 Oct. 2020,

ast year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 923, the Student Civic and Voter Empowerment Act, which gave campuses resources to educate students about civic engagement, inform them about dates and deadlines for voting, and even set up vote centers to allow them to vote in person. The pandemic has upended many of those plans.

The law codified the California Students Vote Project, a public-private partnership with the Secretary of State’s office that was relaunched in August. The project is a collaboration between the California Community College, California State University, University of California, and Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities systems to encourage college students to vote.

Both institutions and student-led groups are adjusting their strategies to get students to the polls. Now that distance learning has kept students from accessing campus resources, both campus and student leaders have had to come up with creative ways to connect to new voters.

“Much of our campus’s previous work to register voters relied on in-person approaches like informational tabling in busy gathering places and residence hall door-to-door outreach conducted by our student government,” said Brian Arao, dean of students at UC Santa Cruz. “Clearly, those approaches are off the table this year. We’ve increased all forms of virtual outreach.”

The campus has sent multiple emails and used social media outreach to provide students with information about how to register to vote and to check their registration status, vote by mail, and where to vote if they are going to do so in person, Arao said.

On the student side, film and literature major Emmanuel Ross Hartway got involved with the campus chapter of California Public Interest Research Group’s New Voters Project, a nonpartisan student organization that aims to boost the student vote through voter registration.

“The biggest difficulty has been reaching new students not only … for petitions and getting them to register to vote, but also just for fundraising,” Hartway said. “The biggest thing that we’ve lost on the shift online is that we can’t do tables, we can’t just be outside canvassing, and petitioning people for things … asking them if they want to register to vote. That’s been a big loss, especially for new students.”

Some new or adjusted strategies to engage new voters have included increased social media presence and “walking in” to Zoom classrooms. Before COVID-19, New Voters Project representatives would get permission to visit classrooms and students about voting during certain classes. Now some professors still let these walk-ins happen during their Zoom lectures.

Relational organizing, where students directly contact their personal networks, is another tactic widely used by the New Voters Project. “The messaging of our campaign is really just that voting is a form of empowerment,” Hartway said. “We see that young people do care.”

UCSC will have one polling place on-campus this year, a decrease from six polling places in previous years, Arao said. People can drop off their mail-in ballots at the Bay Tree Bookstore and the polling site at Merrill College’s Cultural Center will also offer same-day registration.

CSUMB has convened a faculty and staff elections committee tasked with doing outreach to students, both to inform them about voting but also to educate them on related issues such as the census and the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation. “Part of their goal is to make this a campus effort, and do whatever we can to make sure that these students know how to register (and) know how to get involved as far as understanding what the issues are,” said Ronnie Higgs, vice president for student affairs and enrollment services.

For CSUMB and other campuses, one of the biggest challenges facing college students who were already registered is that they may have been registered at their campus address, which is where their mail-in ballots would be sent. Only about 400 of the 3,000 students who typically live in the residence halls remain on campus, Higgs said.

He said CSUMB received a lot of inquiries from students who had gone home to see if they were still eligible to vote in Monterey County. The university clarified with the county registrar that students could vote by absentee ballot even if they were temporarily living elsewhere.

“We followed up to make sure that they at least asked for an absentee ballot to be sent to them,” Higgs said.

He added that he has seen more student engagement in 2020 than he did in 2016. “I think they really understand the issues this time,” Higgs said.

DMU Timestamp: October 14, 2021 23:55

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