Berkeley and the mysterious case of the empty ballot box

CAMPUS ISSUES: Students' failure to participate in the political process to effect change prompts an ASUC bill proposal not strong enough to address the serious problem.

In the most recent move to combat years of student political inactivity, the ASUC Senate has introduced a bill that would work to make coursework on general election days more flexible in what is essentially a last-ditch effort to encourage students to vote. When students are failing to engage in the most basic tenet of democracy, the proposal ought to urge the administration to cancel classes on election days to eliminate excuses that prevent students from creating the change that so many claim to crave.

The bill would call on the chancellor and vice chancellor of student affairs to ensure that instructors don’t mandate attendance, teach new material, make assignments due or schedule exams on the day of a general election. With freer schedules and fewer obstacles, students could make it to polling stations to participate in the elections. It certainly doesn’t take all day to vote, but the emphasis and attention placed on election day would serve to draw students out to polls who otherwise would not participate.

Despite numerous registration efforts on campus and UC Berkeley’s history of activism, students have been failing to actually turn up to the ballot box. In the last election, approximately 13 percent of the student district voted. Other midterm election years yielded a significantly higher turnout: In 2010, about 35 percent of the district voted, and in 2006, about 29 percent of the district voted.

Part of the reason the district lines were redrawn in 2014 was to create an even larger student supermajority district to enable a student to sit on Berkeley City Council and bolster our political power. But in the first election year of the supermajority district’s inception, no student filed to run for the office, and the percentage of residents voting in Alameda County was one of the lowest ever in recent years

Clearly, participation in the political process is not a top priority for students.

Yet voting is simultaneously one of the smallest and most powerful ways to effect change. Votes elect the people into office who supposedly stand for our values and can pass the policies that shape our communities. After rank-choice votes were redistributed and tabulated, one City Council race last year ended up giving Councilmember Lori Droste the seat by just 16 votes.

With college debt a national issue, tuition hikes a state issue and affordable housing a local issue, the upcoming elections introduce salient topics that should be particularly relevant to UC Berkeley students. Voting might seem like an indirect way of effecting change, but not leveraging the political power one possesses is far more dangerous.

Though the bill is a step in the right direction, we don’t believe it goes far enough. The proposal should cancel class to free students of other obligations in order to prove the campus’s dedication to mobilizing students to vote. Without a day officially recognized by the campus, some professors will inevitably assign homework or schedule exams for election day, just as so many do during reading week. Additionally, we would want to see the bill’s language include both midterm-election holidays as well as general-election holidays.

While it is disappointing that it has come to this — that our education would have to be interrupted in order to motivate students to vote — the outcome is worth it. Taking action, even this seemingly small, is crucial for college students to be engaged citizens who create real change.

Editorials represent the collective opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.