Stalk the vote
Students hit the pavement with plans to register thousands in time for Nov. 5 election

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs


ASUC senator Cliff Costa helps junior Jay Bharadwa register to vote during last Friday’s registration blitz.
Noah Berger photo

09 October 2002 | Pols, take note. East Bay shores, come November, could be hit by an electoral tsunami — thousands of newly registered voters, most of them young, casting their votes at local polling stations. That’s the goal, anyway, of a coalition of student organizations hoping to register up to 8,000 students and 4,000 staff on the Berkeley campus by late October, and to get them to the polls Nov. 5.

As in the old days, Sproul Plaza is ground zero for this wave of student activism — now in the form of clipboard-toting volunteers and Berkeley students-turned-candidates stumping for votes in the upcoming City of Berkeley election. But volunteer teams are covering other high-traffic areas as well.

“Students can’t walk onto campus without being asked if they’ve registered to vote,” said a Berkeley Youth Vote coalition member, from the campus chapter of California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), working the crowds outside Sather Gate at noon last week. Nearby, a guitar-strumming undergrad improvised lyrics on behalf of sophomore Micki Weinberg, who is running for Berkeley City Council:

Empower the students
(Does anything rhyme with students?)
Vote for Micki
Register to vote
Get on the boat…

Big ambitions
Berkeley’s voter-registration drive is part of a national effort to increase the political involvement of 50 million potential voters under the age of 30, a group whose low participation rates have been widely documented.

Undergrad Anu Joshi, co-chair of the campus’s CALPIRG chapter, attributes low electoral participation among the young not to apathy but to a vicious cycle: Politicians don’t pay attention to youth because young people don’t vote, and young people don’t vote because politicians don’t address their issues. With the Youth Vote campaign, she says, students are attempting to break that cycle. “We’re saying, ‘We’re going to be the bigger people.’ By taking part in democracy, we force politicians to take note.”

“It’s exciting,” says law student Mo Kashmiri, the Graduate Student Assem-bly’s vice president for external affairs. “We’re working with all the UC and Cal State campuses, with the goal of registering 70,000 students statewide.”

Enthusiasm extends to 200 California Hall, where the chancellor’s office is lending moral and financial support to the campaign. The campus coalition and Chancellor Berdahl have invited a number of local and state politicians to speak on campus during the last weeks of the voter-registration drive. Organizers also hope to sponsor several candidate debates on campus as election day draws nigh.

Concert, bounties at stake
In the meantime, faced with high target numbers and an Oct. 21 registration deadline, organizers are taking the registration campaign to classrooms, student dining halls, dorms, grad-student networks, dissertation workshops, and high-occupancy campus buildings. Residence halls are vying for prizes for the most students registered, and the ASUC is offering student organizations a 50-cent “bounty” for every person they sign up.

Last Friday, Youth Vote volunteers registered 743 people in a one-day contest sponsored by Rock the Vote, a national organization for youth empowerment started by members of the recording industry. To the winners — the California university or college that registered the most new voters — goes a campus concert by a band of students’ choice. By day’s end, Berkeley students claimed the most new registrants of any campus, including rival Stanford. They are now awaiting an official announcement from the sponsors, and debating which band they hope to bring to campus.

When approaching prospective voters, organizers’ message is simple: raise your voice, cast your vote; there are issues and candidates on the ballot that you need to pay attention to.

“There’re going to be four initiatives on the Nov. 5 ballot that directly affect students,” notes Kashmiri. “Students would be morons not to vote. Instead of complaining about perennial problems like housing and classroom space, we have a chance to fix them.”

A voter education guide, now in the works, will describe propositions and contests most relevant to the campus — those that affect affordable housing and higher-education funding among them.

Kashmiri’s personal favorite is Proposition 5 on the state ballot, which would allow eligible Californians to register and vote on election day. “If it passes, this would be the last time we would have to run a voter registration campaign,” he says.

Under current law, requiring voters to re-register every time they move, many students are disenfranchised. Kashmiri cites one study’s estimate that with same-day voter registration, student voting in California would increase by 12.5 percent. “If we start voting in those numbers consistently, it would be a shift in power, in students’ favor.”

Jimmy Bryant, his counterpart at the ASUC and legislative chair of the statewide University of California Student Association, sees Measure P on the City of Berkeley ballot as an issue of paramount interest to campus students and staff. Also known as the Berkeley Height Initiative, the measure, if passed, would reduce permissible building heights in downtown Berkeley and higher-density city districts — and therefore affect the future availability of affordable housing, he argues.

Citing the untapped voting power of California youth, Bryant calls it his “duty” to bring students at Berkeley together to say “‘we are not something to be taken advantage of.’” The University of California alone has 170,000 students on its campuses, he notes. “We may not have money, but we have the numbers.”


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