Over a week has passed since the voter registration deadline, and the University of California, Santa Barbara hopes to continue its trend of registering an impressive number of new voters and maintaining ownership of the best voter registration rate among the UCs. In 2012, UCSB registered over 11,000 new voters for the presidential election. For many, these numbers are a point of pride—a proud declaration of a campus invested in performing its civic duties with a student body committed to making a difference.
With the most recent wave of voter registration, students have called into question the aggressive tactics used by many campus organizations looking to register new voters. These up-front strategies can seem over the top and extreme when it seems like these groups are only interested in the prestige that comes with putting up praise-worthy new voter numbers, but I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt. They see registering new voters as a way to increase political awareness among their peers and hopefully create a lasting effect.
The methods that these groups use to recruit new voters can, in the heat of the moment, cause unnecessary stress, but we should be able to overlook being asked two or three times to register to vote and understand that these persistent organizations are only taking advantage of being on a college campus. A university is, after all, essentially an ideal place to target young, diverse, quality voters who care about securing their educations and opportunities to succeed in the future.
The importance of voter registration in higher education is recognized by the state and federal governments. The federal Higher Education Act and State of California Donahoe Higher Education Act, as summarized on the UCSB voter registration information webpage, requires “higher education institutions make a ‘good faith effort’ to make voter registration forms available to all enrolled students.”
But registering to vote is only part of the bigger picture. A name on a voter registration form is meaningful, but raising political awareness has a far more lasting impact; perhaps that is a better way to view the situation. If we look at it as students trying to get other students informed and involved with issues that we all, to a certain extent, know are important, then maybe it will be easier for all of us to forgive the brief interruption to our busy schedules.
As students, raising awareness about the impact we could have on the politics that affect us now and in our futures is certainly worth the few times we may have to momentarily press pause on our afternoons. Students have specific needs and beliefs that will not be addressed by government institutions unless we voice them. All of us need to be able to look ahead and be aware of the issues that will affect us post-graduation and in the work-force.
We need to know and understand the issues in order make changes to the parts of our lives we are not satisfied with. Registering to vote just might give us the incentive or push we need to research the issues. As for whether or not the hard push to register to vote is worth it in the long run, we cannot be certain. But by encouraging students to vote, these campus organizations are trying to get us to care. They want us to take a personal interest in social and economic policies. They are trying to get students to care about the issues that affect us, and they are trying to raise the political awareness necessary for us to make a difference for ourselves and for future students.
An understanding that we as students are in a position to make a difference can go a long way, and at the end of the day, whether campus organizations have the most effective strategy for increasing political awareness or not, we should not hold it against them for trying.