Voter Registration Volunteer Coalition at UCSB Aims to Increase Midterm Election Turnout

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Jacob Wong
National Beat Reporter

For one campus organization at UCSB, Halloween isn’t the only date on their mind this October. The other one is Oct. 22, the deadline for California residents to register to vote for the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 6. Since move-in weekend, the UCSB Voter Registration Volunteer Coalition has been working around the clock to encourage students to register before that day comes.

Whether it has been knocking door-to-door in the dorms and I.V. or tabling in the Arbor, the Registration Coalition has employed a wide variety of methods to spread their message. To them, this is a critical time to reach a demographic that historically has shown a low turnout during national elections.

“Students don’t vote,” said Spencer Brandt, a fourth year history of public policy major and student coordinator for the Coalition. “A lot of the reason why I think students don’t vote is that it’s such a new process to them. People are coming out of high school and finding their voice in democracy for the first time.”

The numbers are telling. According to the United States Census Bureau, 55.4 percent of the American population ages 18-24 registered to vote in the 2016 presidential election, the lowest registration rate of any demographic by nearly 10 percentage points.

However, if recent history is any indication, it seems that UCSB may be an exception. Over 11,000 students at UCSB registered to vote in the 2012 election, which set a national record at the time. More recently, during the 2016 election over 19,000 students registered between the UCSB and I.V. precincts. The total enrollment at UCSB that year was 24,346.

Brandt attributes the university’s high turnout rates largely to the work of student groups such as the Registration Coalition. “UCSB really is the model for the country when it comes to voter registration,” he said. “In just the past month, I’ve had folks from different states calling in wanting to know how we do it. It is starting to become well known that UCSB is doing something right.”

Despite recent success, Brandt recognizes that the Coalition’s work is still greatly needed at UCSB. One common misconception about voter registration that he believes keeps many students from reaching the polls is the fact that registration information needs to be updated regularly, especially for people who change addresses.

This is important since people are assigned to physical polling locations on election day based on their listed address. If a person tries to go to a different polling station without updating their registration, their name won’t appear on that station’s roster.

“Those misconceptions go hand in hand — the idea that we don’t have to update our registration every time we move and the idea that we can go and vote at any polling place that exists on campus or I.V.,” said Brandt.

For this reason, the Voter Registration Volunteer Coalition works to provide students easy access to polling stations come election day. “UCSB is lucky that we have polls in a lot of the res halls, so students just need to go downstairs and vote,” said Viviana Marsano, an advisor for campus organizations in the Office of Student Life and the Senior Coordinator for the Registration Coalition. “When it gets closer to elections we come to campus and post signs with a map [showing students] where their polling station is according to where they live.”

With a week to go before the registration deadline, the Coalition is showing no signs of slowing down yet. “We’re out there all the time. We’re in your face. We want you know the election is coming up because the stakes are high,” said Brandt. “The vote during midterms historically has just not been there in the same way it has been for other demographics, so we still have a lot of work to do.”

For more information about UCSB voter registration and the Voter Registration Volunteer Coalition, visit www.sa.ucsb.edu/voter-registration. The California deadline to register for this year’s election is Oct. 22.

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