UCSB launches ‘Gauchos Vote’ campaign in order to drive voter registration
By TESS KENNY
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
Every day, hundreds of UCSB students hurry through Storke Plaza, some going to class while others rush to get home. Without a moment to spare, they rarely stop for bikes let alone engage with those they pass by.
But when words of voting and elections rang through the square, students didn’t just stop — they listened.
On Thursday, USCB CALPIRG Chapter’s New Voters Project, the Voter Registration Volunteer Coalition and Office of the External Vice President Student Affairs gathered at Storke Plaza to announce their new project: Gauchos Vote.
Throughout the event, representatives from each organization explained their part in the voting coalition, which hopes to increase voter registration and solidify turnout for the upcoming election.
“We partnered with (other organizations) so we could have a united effort in registering students to vote and making sure they come out to polls in November,” said Ms. Kawamura. “We wanted to work together to make sure that we’re reaching our goals together and sharing our best practices.”
As a part of that effort, Gauchos Vote plans on holding an event right before California’s voter registration deadline on Feb. 17. Other projects will include Party at the Polls, an election day event featuring music, free food, photobooths and nonpartisan information as students go to cast their ballots.
“We started right at the beginning of the school year to amplify the youth vote as much as possible,” said Veronika Michels, CALIPIRG’s campus organizer. “Right now, (that bloc) is the largest and most diverse but has historically shown up to vote a lot less than older generations.”
In the 2014 midterm elections, less than 20 percent of young people voted — the lowest rate ever — compared with roughly 40 percent of the general population, according to the United States Census. Since then, groups like Gauchos Vote have tried to reverse that trend.
And it looks like they’re succeeding.
Among 18- to 29-year-olds, voter turnout jumped to 36 percent in 2018, the largest increase of any age group. At UCSB, the numbers were even better. Over the last six years, on-campus voting rates increased by more than 243 percent, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement.
That improvement earned UCSB recognition in the national All in Challenge, which honors colleges and universities for their commitment to civic engagement. Ranging from bronze to platinum, awards were given to the campuses who exhibited the highest student voting rates in the last midterm election.
UCSB brought home gold.
“Now we have one of the best voter registration rates in the whole country,” said Ms. Michels. “That’s why we think UCSB is one of the ones where the potential is just so high to build a really strong, active and engaged voting culture.”
This success is largely the product of student activism.
Prior to the last midterm elections, the New Voter’s Project helped register countless UCSB students. With class announcements, emails, tabling and text messages, the organization brought campus-wide attention to polling sites throughout the county.
VRVC provides similar opportunities. Each year, the coalition kicks off its efforts during fall quarter move-in weekend, when volunteers go to every residence hall and register freshmen at floor meetings.
“That’s been a huge part of UCSB voting culture because it’s one of the first things gauchos do,” said Natalie Bastawros, fourth-year student and VRVC Intern. “We get to go in there as a nonpartisan group and give students a voice.”
As the year goes on, VRVC visits houses and apartments in Isla Vista, as well as speaks during fraternity and sorority meetings in an effort to reach as many students as possible.
While each of these groups have made an impact individually, they believe their collaboration in Gauchos Vote can yield unprecedented effects, like making strides in next year’s All in Challenge.
“By working together we can really shoot for platinum,” said Bee Schaefer, EVPSA UC We Vote Campus Coordinator. “This is a collective effort, and I think that’s what we’re all super passionate about.”
While Thursday marked just the start of their campaign, Gauchos Vote is already seeing campus-wide response. For this reason, the coalition doesn’t feel like it’s creating something new but cultivating a culture that was already there.
“I feel like as a group, we don’t really need to get people fired up because they’re already fired up,” said Peyton, CALPIRG Intern. “It feels good to be surrounded by people who care and want to see change happen.”