California college students, armed with clipboards and pens, competed against students from other campuses in a sprint to get the most students registered by the midterm elections on Nov. 6.
The Ballot Bowl, a competition launched by California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla, registered more than 10,700 students throughout California. The initiative aimed to increase young-voter turnout and civic engagement.
“California is home to many great college rivalries, and our students love a good competition — that’s why we are launching the Ballot Bowl,” Padilla said in his original statement in September.
The competition included the the California Community College, California State University (CSU), University of California (UC), and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities systems; however each system also competed within themselves.
“While students are very opinionated and passionate about issues affecting them and their communities, sometimes they feel like voting isn’t going to make a difference,” said Grace Pang, the San Jose State University Associated Students director of external affairs. Pang helped organize the voter registration drive at SJSU.
“Our campaign is to show that the student vote really does matter and that the student vote can make a big impact,” Pang said.
While all 23 CSUs put up a tough fight, first-place winner California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo swept the competition with almost 3,200 students registered and CSU Fullerton came in second with about 2,600 students registered. The CSUs registered more than 7,400 students by the statewide registration deadline of Oct. 22.
“CSUF (California State University, Fullerton) was very successful through creating a ‘Voter registration Coalition’ that gave students volunteer hours for school credit in exchange for helping to register students. Cal Poly SLO started voter registration during weeks of welcome and got a strong head start,” Pang said.
SJSU rose from its seventh place standing in mid-October and finished in fourth among CSUs, and fifth overall with 339 voters registered.
SJSU’s Associated Students leadership teamed up with SJSU Vote, Pi Sigma Alpha, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group for a larger campus campaign called SJSU Votes.
SJSU Vote is a student-run campaign started by SJSU political science professor Mary Currin-Percival and her political participation class. They tabled frequently on campus to increase student voter turnout.
“We were planning on canvassing on campus to register students but when we heard about this competition we signed up right away,” said Currin-Percival. “It’s a fun way to get students involved in a greater goal — getting more people to vote.”
SJSU Votes is a nonpartisan, student-driven campaign to increase student voter registration and civic participation.
“Nonpartisan, meaning that it doesn’t matter what side you take. What matters is that we get the message out for people to vote,” said SJSU senior Albert Alkakos, who is majoring in political science.
Alkakos is one Currin-Percival’s students, and said he has enjoyed helping students register for the election.
“The student demographic is especially underrepresented in our elections so we hope to motivate people so we can have our voice heard in the local government,” Alkakos said.
While SJSU Vote started registering students from the beginning of the semester, SJSU joined the Ballot Bowl in early October.
“Students are underrepresented … especially in midterm elections. They vote such low percents and there are so many issues that affect students in midterms,” Currin-Percival said.
The Pew Research Center reports that voter turnout for people ages 18-29 were the lowest of any group at 49 percent in the 2016 presidential election.
In the 2014 midterm election, voter turnout for people 18 to 34 was also at an all-time low of 19.9 percent, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and state Sen. Jim Beall also came to SJSU to encourage students to vote in the midterm election, after the Ballot Bowl competition.
“Its evident as we look across the national headspace the decisions being made for young people are not in the best interest of our young people,” Liccardo said. “We critically need college students engaged, we need them to vote and we need their voices to be heard.”
He said he hopes SJSU gets first place in the next Ballot Bowl.
“If you want policies that help you, like better student loan relief, or better Pell grants, or the possibility of better housing in the future, you got to show up to vote in these elections, and more importantly, midterm elections,” Currin-Percival said.
Currin-Percival said these issues make the midterm elections especially important for students.
“Young people could be the largest bloc of voters in the nation — but they have to register first,” said Currin-Percival. “There is evidence that this is habit forming. If you get students involved early, they are much more likely to vote later on and continue to vote throughout their life.”
Check final results on the state Ballot Bowl competition.