Last week, my anthropology professor sent out a mass email to our class reminding us to register to vote. His message informed us that democracy only functions when we make our voices heard.
That same day, our professor sent out a reminder about an upcoming two-page essay.
This illustrates a conundrum for many UC Berkeley students. Our lives fill up with classes and other obligations, and voting can fall by the wayside despite its importance. In the words of Marie Claire de Martino, who works with CalPIRG’s voter registration campaign, “It’s difficult to think about elections all the time when you’re worried about a different type of midterm.”
Casting your vote, however, is extremely important; it’s the basic foundation upon which our democracy is built. There are multiple ways to vote, too — going to your local polling place and filling out your ballot on-site or sending your ballot through the vote-by-mail process.
Which method is better for students?
The best way is often “what is most convenient for you,” according to Alameda County Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis.
Voting with a mail-in ballot can be the simplest form of exercising civic duty for some. This is when your local registrar mails you a ballot no matter where you are registered, and you fill it out and mail it back.
This process becomes even easier for students registered in Alameda County. There are many drop boxes that can be used for free throughout the county, including one by Sather Gate. Alameda County voters simply have to drop off their ballots before Election Day. Student voters can also turn in their ballots at any polling place the day of the election.
For those registered outside Alameda County, the process is a bit more complicated. Students must mail in their ballots at their local post office or mailbox. Most students do not regularly send mail, and as de Martino points out, “that is a barrier for students.” Although, she states, “It gives you the opportunity to stay engaged in your hometown communities.” It should be noted, too, that the U.S. Postal Service has a policy of delivering all ballots, even those incorrectly postmarked, and California is enacting legislation in 2019, which will require counties to pay for postage so that stamps are not required from voters.
The difficulty faced by most students in voting by mail is simply remembering to mail in their ballots, which ultimately comes down to time management. But some have other concerns: Is it a secure process? Will all votes get counted?
According to Dupuis, there are multiple levels of inspection and counting. Your signature or another form of authentication is required on the ballot envelope. Dupuis added that “we (election officials) have to receive the mail three days after the election and inspect postmarks.” As long as your ballot is postmarked before or on the day of the election, your vote will be counted.
Voting by mail also gives student voters the opportunity to research many of the issues and candidates as they fill out their ballots. “You get the ballot in the mail; you have it with you; you have time to take a look at it, figure out how you want to vote,” Dupuis said.
Voting by mail is safe and can allow you to vote easily and conveniently, but voting at the polls has its own merits.
There is a sense of community in going out on Election Day and seeing others do the same. Voters are allowed to bring paper voting guides into booths in order to help them fill out their ballots. You can still receive an “I Voted” sticker with a mail-in ballot, but there’s something unique about exercising your voting rights at the polls.
While traveling to polling places may not be part of a lot of students’ daily schedules, many are centralized, accessible to those with disabilities and near public transit, including in UC Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, Unit 1 and Unit 3.
Voting by mail and at the polls will both result in your voice being heard. All it requires is a little extra planning and forethought. Usually, Dupuis summarizes, the better method “depends on people’s circumstances and what’s convenient.”
No matter what method you choose though, remember to turn in your ballots during elections. “Get out and vote,” Dupuis said. “Every vote absolutely counts.”