Voter registration reaches record high among CA college students

Infographic displaying UC student voter registration data
Flora Huynh/Staff

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Rates of college student voter registration for the Nov. 3 elections reached record highs amid a California-wide effort to increase voter turnout.

Efforts to improve turnout among the student and youth demographic have had to adapt to pandemic conditions as traditional strategies such as panels and concerts are no longer practical, according to ASUC Vote Coalition Director Miyako Iwata. 

However, efforts such as the California University and College Ballot Bowl, a friendly competition hosted by California Students Vote Project where higher education institutions compete to register students, have yielded significant results. All 10 UC campuses participated in the competition this year.

“Over 65,000 Californian college students have registered to vote since the second California University and College Ballot Bowl launched on August 17, 2020,” said a press release from California Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office. “This is an enormous increase compared to the approximately 21,000 Californian college students who registered to vote using the Secretary of State’s online voter registration system the entire year of 2016.”

UC Berkeley placed in the top 10 in the Ballot Bowl, Iwata said.

This year, 1,373 in-state students have registered to vote for the first time. However, Iwata said this number obscures the many out-of-state students who were not counted in the tally or the already-registered students who renewed their registration. The Vote Coalition has helped drive up these numbers, she said.

“(The Vote Coalition is) an agency department tasked with, first of all, registering student voters and sending out the registration link and assisting out-of-state students if they need that support,” Iwata said. “But it doesn’t stop there because we have to make sure folks are informed about the candidates and that they also know how to vote.”

The number of campus students registered to vote has been on the rise in recent years, Iwata said. In 2016, voter registration among UC Berkeley students was at 64.8%, but in 2018 it had risen to 73.7%. She added that the Vote Coalition won’t know the percent of campus registered to vote in November’s election until late next year.

Student organizations such as CALPIRG have also worked to increase voter turnout on campus. Efforts have moved online, according to Valerie Nguyen, campus CALPIRG chapter chair.

“Lots of students have moved since they last registered and don’t know where they should register now,” Nguyen said. “One of the biggest challenges is just getting the information out to help people actually get their ballot and turn it in safely.”

In light of pandemic restrictions, the CALPIRG and the Vote Coalition have used phones, texting and contact with campus clubs to get students registered.

Overall, Nguyen is optimistic about this year’s voter turnout.

“This year is probably going to be the biggest year in youth voter turnout in history,” Nguyen said. “Our generation is the largest and most diverse generation in the history of our country and could potentially be the most influential bloc of voters.”

Contact David Villani at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @davidvillani7.