UCLA students said they are working to institutionalize voting on campus in an effort to increase student-voter turnout in the upcoming 2020 general election.
The California Public Interest Research Group hosted an event Thursday morning at Bruin Plaza to discuss UCLA student-voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections and efforts to increase turnout in the upcoming 2020 elections.
UCLA student-voter turnout increased by over 300% between the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections, according to a report from The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, a Tufts University project. Despite the increase in student-voter turnout, less than 45% of UCLA students voted, said Arielle Romm, a CALPIRG volunteer and first-year political science student.
CALPIRG runs the nation’s oldest and largest non-partisan youth voter mobilization organization called the New Voters Project, Romm said
Romm added CALPIRG is working to break down any barriers to civic engagement and to institutionalize voting on campus.
“We believe that the full participation of young people in the political process is pivotal to a truly representative democracy,” Romm said. “It’s our future, so we have to vote.”
Douglas Barrera, the associate director of the UCLA Center for Community Learning, said at the event that over the years he has noticed that students have become divorced from the political process.
“In many ways, when you see the dysfunction that’s happening in Washington, you can’t really blame (students for becoming disinterested),” Barrera said. “But what I want to encourage students to think about is there’s no one way to create change. In addition to the direct service work, … voting is a really important aspect of this.”
Barrera added students need to be engaged in the political process if they want to change power dynamics.
“Rather than looking at the dysfunction and disengaging from the process, I would encourage students to engage that much more because we need young people voting,” Barrera said. “You want to have an influence on what’s happening in the country (and) there’s no way that you cannot be involved in the political process.”
Elisa Chang, a graduate student and the New Voters Project coordinator, said CALPIRG will be hosting debate-watching parties, political art galleries, democracy classes and voter registration drives to create a culture of voting and institutionalize voting on campus.
Campuses need to prepare for a larger turnout in the upcoming election, since more people typically vote in presidential elections, Chang added.
“Since we already had 300% turnout, this means that next year, the turnout is going to be absolutely insane,” she said. “And we know that college campuses are not ready to take on the amount of student turnout that they’re going to see. And so this is kind of like a way of saying, ‘Hey, like, get ready.’”
Mark Peterson, a professor of public policy, political science and law who spoke at the event, said historically young voters have participated significantly less than other age groups.
“One of the wonderful things about the report that came out about 2018 is, not only across the nation was turnout historically high, but turnout of UCLA student voters was also extraordinarily high,” Peterson said.
He added he thinks this election is particularly important for young voters.
“I’ve been through a lot of presidential elections, and we always hear hyperbole about how important a particular election is,” Peterson said. “This election is important. In fact, it’s probably the most important in my lifetime, and it is certainly the most important for the younger generations.”
Peterson said while it was great that 45% of students at UCLA voted in 2018, he thinks 100% of students should be voting.
“When we talk about the dysfunction we see in Washington and elsewhere, we often hear it’s all being controlled by other people, that money plays such a powerful role in our elections,” he said. “What elected officials pay attention to more than anything else are votes, and if this generation got out and voted at astronomical levels, it would fundamentally shift the way the agenda is attacked.”
Emma Barudi, a third-year political science and economics student who works in the Undergraduate Student Association Council’s external vice president’s office, also spoke at the event.
She said the EVP’s office has also played an integral role in increasing voter turnout with the UCLA BruinsVOTE! Campaign, which is comprised of multiple groups that work to increase student-voter registration.
As a part of the coalition, the EVP’s office trained over 200 volunteers to register voters and registered over 2,000 students to vote on election day, Barudi said.
Barudi added while the campus has made progress over the last few years, they want to continue the momentum through the 2020 elections. She said they aim to have over half of the UCLA student population vote in the next elections.
Chang added she thinks it’s important to encourage students to be civically engaged, since young people are the largest generation alive in the country right now.
“This means that if all of us actually turned out to the polls, then we could make the decisions that we care about that are going to impact our future,” Chang said.