A.S. Beat Reporter
On Jan. 11, the Santa Barbara Student Activist Network accused Rock the Vote S.B. of misleading potential voters to reduce voter numbers in Isla Vista and Santa Barbara County.
Despite the shared name, Rock the Vote S.B. is unaffiliated with the national “Rock the Vote,” an independent, non-profit set up to encourage young people to register to vote which was explained in an article written by the Santa Barbara Independent. The Independent also reported that in Dec. 2019, the national organization sent U.C. Santa Barbara’s fraudulent chapter a cease and desist notice. When the Independent visited the Isla Vista address listed on Rock the Vote S.B.’s social media, they reported that the office had been shuttered.
The Student Activist Network and students have reported both state that the organization took steps to ensure some students were not registered to vote in Santa Barbara County. According to these reports, the Santa Barbara chapter told registrants their car insurance rates would increase if they registered in Santa Barbara, which is false.
In addition, they suggested that students register in their home counties if they cared about certain issues in those communities, referencing the housing crisis in the Bay Area and a lack of public transit in San Diego.
While students are allowed to register in their original county or where they currently reside, this comes at a suspicious time, because the election cycle is set to occur during the upcoming months.
Bruce Porter, a candidate currently running for S.B. County’s third district supervisor, was accused of alleged involvement with the organization by the organization’s former executive director, Robin Howe. In a statement to the Independent, Howe claimed that when he first displayed interest in the position of executive director he met with Porter, who stated he wanted “a non-partisan voter registration group in Isla Vista.”
Neither Porter nor his campaign has directly responded to The Bottom Line’s request for comments, but Porter has categorically denied any association between his campaign and Rock the Vote S.B. Speaking to the Independent, Porter claimed that his “campaign has no connection to Rock the Vote S.B. In fact I think this was manufactured to distract us from bringing a voice and change to Isla Vista.”
Over the past few months, Porter’s campaign has been dogged by allegations that Porter is out of touch with the student body. These allegations are a holdover from Porter’s 2015 campaign, during which Isla Vista served as a key battleground. Ultimately, much of Isla Vista’s large student population voted to elect Porter’s opponent Joan Hartmann. A two-time candidate for third district supervisor, Porter is once again running against Hartmann, and has revamped his platform to cater to a broader student population.
His website makes many references to easing the transition for new students, aiding the existing student population, and providing education about the surrounding area to tourists and potential students.
Porter has also set up the “Bruce Porter Student Resilience Fund,” which also seeks to help students transition into Isla Vista life.
The measures taken to hoodwink students during this election cycle have left some student voters feeling isolated and jaded. Luke Chen, a third-year engineering major, told The Bottom Line that “It’s hard to know where to go to vote, or who for. Stuff like this makes me not even care,” though he went on to admit that he “knows” he should.
Students make up a sizable chunk of voting districts in Santa Barbara, especially in Isla Vista, which has proven itself to be a crucial element of the Third District constituency. The dissolution of Rock the Vote S.B. has proven how important it is that student voters are allowed to make decisions about how to cast their vote with all the accurate information made available to them.
Students who have not yet registered to vote can register online here, or through voter sign-up forms on campus, by Feb. 18, in order to be eligible to vote in the March 3 primary.
Huiwen Jia and Jessica Gang contributed reporting to this article.