UC Berkeley students take to the polls, some for the 1st time

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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Midterm elections are notorious for low voter turnouts, but first-time voters at UC Berkeley flocked to the polls this election. Freshman Kevin Liu is just one of thousands of UC Berkeley students who exercised their right to vote for the first time Nov. 6.

I would have voted two years ago if I could,” Liu said. “I would have voted four years ago if I could.”

For freshman Donald Poston, voting represents a dream come true. “I’ve always wanted to vote and it’s really exciting being able to for the first time,” Poston said.

Almost two years into the Trump presidency, reports across the country have shown that people are registering to vote at higher rates than in previous years for a midterm election. This shift comes two years after the 2016 election, where less than half of eligible 18- to 29-year-olds showed up to vote, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The key question that remains is whether young people showed up to the polls in Tuesday’s election as well.

In the weeks leading up to the election, groups across campus have worked to encourage new voters to get to the polls. One of them is the ASUC Vote Coalition, a group led by the ASUC Office of the External Affairs Vice President that works to increase student awareness and participation in elections and voting.

We were answering so many questions, we were engaging so many students, we had so many people register,” ASUC Vote Coalition Director Dana Alpert said.

Alpert added that through the Vote Coalition’s efforts, more than 2,000 students registered as new voters this fall. These efforts included tabling across campus, giving presentations in both classes and student groups and registering students in their residence halls. Alpert estimated that about 70 percent of newly registered students will be filling out their ballots in the local Berkeley election rather than in their home city.

But for some students, registering in their home states or counties was more important. Sophomore Charlie Harris felt it was vital that he vote in his home state of Florida.

“It’s a very close state,” Harris said. “I think that every vote counts.”

To help encourage voting, California has implemented new laws, such as voter registration at the DMV. This means that 16-year-olds in the state who receive driver’s licenses can also choose to be pre-registered to vote. Same-day voting is another law that allows voters to both register and vote on Election Day. California is one of 15 states with such a law in place.

Despite these efforts, not everyone who is eligible to vote is choosing to vote in the midterm election. Liu said he has been trying to encourage his friends to vote, but he has not always been successful.

“The ones that are over 18 don’t really care, which kind of irks me,” Liu said.

Many students cited the results of the 2016 presidential election as the motivating factor driving them to vote and pay attention to politics.

We see every day the effects of the refugee crisis or the housing crisis, for example, and that’s motivating people,” Alpert said. “They are showing people that it is time to stand up; it’s time to take our voice and take any agency of change that we have and use it.”

Students also shared how they felt voting would impact them and particularly their generation. They looked forward to their future careers and families and discussed the impact the election could have.

Eventually, it’s going to be our government,” freshman Ishaan Sharma said. ”We are the younger generation. We will step into this; whatever we vote for now will actually matter 20 or 30 years from now.”

Contact Ella Tyler at [email protected] .