Berkeley Law students propose legislation to register students to vote

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Rachael Garner/File

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Two students at the UC Berkeley School of Law have helped draft state legislation that would automatically register select college students to vote.

Berkeley Law students Paul Monge, a first-year student, and Cindy Dinh, a third-year student, drafted the proposal as a result of their concerns with the financial difficulties of the UC system in light of disinvestment in higher education.

“(The finances of the UC system are) dependent on state leaders and Legislature leaders that understand our priorities,” Monge said. “This requires students be able to vote to put allies in Sacramento.”

If passed, the UC, California State University and California Community College systems will become automatic voter-registration agencies: When students register for classes, they will automatically be registered to vote but may opt out of registration, according to Jennifer Kwart, a spokesperson for Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco.

According to Dinh, she and Monge found inspiration for this idea from the Motor Voter Law, the first automatic voter program involving a public agency in California. The law automatically registers those who apply for or renew their driver’s license.

“If this public agency can register voters automatically, why can’t another public agency?” Dinh said.

The two presented their idea to Chiu through the “There Ought to Be a Law” program, in which Chiu’s constituents submit ideas to create or change laws. Their proposal was selected from among the submissions, and a draft was submitted for further development by Chiu and Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland.

Currently known as Assembly Bill 2455 under a placeholder bill, the full language of the bill will be released later this week.

Kwart explained in an email that boosting voter registration and turnout among young people is important because youth are widely affected by myriad policy issues.

“Voting rights and expanding student influence in the political process is something (Cal Democrats have) always been interested in, and this seems like a great way to do that,” said TJ Grayson, political director of Cal Dems.

Getting students to vote will result in a “more inclusive democracy,” said campus assistant law professor Bertrall Ross, who advised Monge and Dinh during the drafting process.

According to Ross, possible concerns with the bill may include those over privacy, the ability to opt out and ensuring that only eligible voters are registered.

Associate professor of political science Laura Stoker said that a possible drawback of the bill is that it would lead to an “increased gap in turnout between those who do and don’t go to college.”

Nevertheless, she said she still supports the idea of making voter registration easier.

This bill comes at a time when other states have restricted voting rights. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, since the last presidential election, 16 states have passed restrictions that make it harder to vote, such as ID requirements.

UC Student Association President Kevin Sabo said he hopes to reverse this tide.

“Here in California, we’ve been working to do the opposite and do what we can to bring more people who are eligible to vote onto the voter rolls,” he said.

According to Kwart, the bill will be heard in its first committee in late March or early April.

Contact Alex Fang at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @alexfang_DC.