A historic partnership is underscoring the importance of student voter registration and education across California. The new collaboration between the California Secretary of State’s Office, the California State University system and the California State Student Association encourages all 23 campuses and eight off-campus centers that constitute the CSU system to participate in The California Students Vote Project.
The partnership comes in anticipation of the 2016 General Election. In the 2014 General Election, only 52 percent of eligible youth were registered to vote, which was more than 20 points below any other age group, and only 8 percent of eligible youth aged 18-24 voted. A report released by the Secretary of State’s office in 2014 stated that only 8,454 of the 2.8 million students at California’s public colleges and universities registered to vote through an online opportunity provided by their campus, which is a mere 0.3 percent of the student body.
According to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who released a statement Tuesday regarding the new partnership, this is the first time the publicly funded higher education system and a Secretary of State have signed a commitment to support voter registration efforts at this scale.
“Today’s announcement secures system wide support for student voter registration efforts on every publicly funded college or university in our state,” said Padilla. “I look forward to working with each of the systems, advocacy organizations and student organizations to register, engage and empower the more than 2.7 million students in our higher education system.”
The memorandum of understanding between the CSU and Secretary of State’s office encourages campuses to implement best practices as outlined by The California Students Vote Project, which includes asking students during optimal time periods or via their student portals to register to vote, sending all-campus emails and notifications about the importance of voting before voter registration deadlines and elections, and implementing said practices for on-the ground, education and voter registration efforts on campus housing and other high-traffic areas on campus.
The Secretary of State’s office also created a webpage which hosts resources for campuses, faculty and students regarding frequently asked questions related to voting, sample posters, sample social media posts for voter registration efforts, key deadlines and dates and a guide to facilitate voter registration drives.
“I commend Secretary Padilla’s drive to bring the democratic process to Californians, pro-actively expanding access for citizens to participate in governance,” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. “Young voters stand to inherit today’s decisions and we have agency to ensure those voices have every opportunity to be represented.”
At Stanislaus State, the Associated Students, Inc. Warrior Lobby Team is committed to making students’ voices heard by local officials. Leading up to the election, the group has focused on registering students to vote so that their voices can be heard on Nov. 8 as well.
Through informational flyers, events, dialogue and voter registration booths, ASI Governmental Relations Coordinator Noriel Mostajo and other ASI representatives hope to educate students on how they can vote and why they should.
“We’re trying to empower students and make sure they have a voice in this world and in this election,” said Mostajo. “Milennials in particular are the largest population, but we have the lowest voter turnout and registration in general. If we all exercise our right to vote it will make a big impact.”
Every Wednesday in the campus’ quad area, ASI hosts a voter registration booth where students can learn about the election and register to vote if they have not yet done so. Oftentimes when students approach the booth, an ASI representative will ask them an election-related question, such as if they know when the election is or who the state’s governor is, said Mastajo.
Though Mastajo said it was surprising how many students were uninformed, ASI works to make sure that they don’t feel ashamed for not knowing the answers.
“We give them the resources and answers to make sure they walk away well-informed,” he said. “We’re trying to help educate them so that they’re not only registering to vote, but they’re also civically engaged.”
“If the student doesn’t know the answers to the questions, they often say, ‘Oh, I really should look this up,’” said Warrior Lobby Team member Katie Jaycox. “So, it’s really getting a lot of students to start thinking about it.”
According to Jaycox, while the low voter turnout rate for students in previous years may result from uninformed students, the problem also stems from youth thinking that their vote doesn’t matter.
“Part of it is that a lot of people think it doesn’t matter and that it doesn’t affect them,” said Jaycox. “What a lot of students don’t know is that, for example, the assembly and senate decide the school budget. Students don’t realize how much city, state and federal government can affect their lives, and they don’t think their voice matters when it does.”
It’s Mastajo’s hope that at least ten percent of Stanislaus State’s student body will be registered to vote before the Nov. 8 election. Along with voter registration booths, Mastajo is also working to develop class presentations to further educate students on the importance of voting. A voter registration link has also been connected to the ASI website, as well as a link on each students’ university portal. The university is also hosting two debate watch parties in the school’s student lounge.
“Part of our job is to make sure that voters are educated,” said Jaycox. “You can’t have a democracy without an educated voter population. If we all went out and voted, we would totally make an impact and that’s what a lot of people don’t realize.”