UC voter registration efforts adapt to remote operations

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Karen Chow/File
A UC survey shows that California youths are actively engaged in elections and are worried about the pandemic's impact on the November election.

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This year, with the transition to remote instruction, student voting — along with the rest of campus life — is going to look a lot different.

A new poll released by the UC system surveyed young adults in the state on their media consumption, policy priorities and voter registration status. The poll, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the UC system, surveyed a total of 1,000 California residents aged 18 to 24 and found a dramatic increase in voter turnout among UC students between 2014 and 2018, as well as significant diversity in young adults’ political beliefs.

Of the survey respondents, 70% are registered to vote in the November election. About 55% of respondents said they will “definitely” or “probably” vote in November, while about 11% said they will not. Of the respondents, 69% said they are concerned about how COVID-19 will depress voter turnout in November.

The poll also compared student engagement on a national scale to engagement within the UC system. Nationally, youth voting doubled between 2014 and 2018, while voting nearly tripled among UC students in the same period.

The survey found that almost half of California young adults registered to vote through a campaign organized either by the state Department of Motor Vehicles or by their school or university. In a normal election season, student groups supporting voter registration can be found around campus with clipboards to register voters.

With the transition to remote instruction, however, these groups are thinking about how they can encourage high turnout in a presidential election year through virtual campaigns.

“We’ve had to get creative,” said Sander Kushen, a UC Santa Cruz organizer with CalPIRG. “We’ve been focusing more on social media. One of the great things about Zoom is that it’s more accessible for everyone.”

CalPIRG chapters at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz partnered to launch their 2020 New Voters Project, which aims to increase voter turnout through peer-to-peer conversations. They also aim to institutionalize voter registration within campus bodies that have a large reach, such as campus services and residential life.

The group’s first initiative, launched Thursday, is a social media competition between students at UC Santa Cruz and those at UC Berkeley, to see who can make the most informative voting-related social media post.

On a UC system level, student voter registration efforts share resources through the UC Student Association campaign UCweVote.

“Even with the challenge of remote learning, we’re still challenging ourselves to do better than in the March primary,” said Aidan Arasasingham, government relations committee chair of UCSA.

Arasasingham said voter registration efforts should also involve expanding voting coalitions and partnering with underrepresented cultural communities.

“Beyond hard numbers, success looks like really intentional partnerships with communities of color historically disenfranchised from their right to vote,” Arasasingham said.

Contact Ruby Sutton at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rubysutton_.