Political discussions at the dinner table were common when I was growing up. Through these table talks, my parents instilled in my brothers and me the importance of voting. My dad would tell us that voting was our “civic duty.” So, you can imagine how excited I was to turn 18.
On my first election day, I couldn’t wait to get to the polls and cast my ballot. In the beginning, my votes were similar to those of my parents, frankly because I never gave policy issues much thought. But when I took my first teaching job in my early 20s, talking politics with colleagues around the lunch table and after hours invigorated me. I quickly realized there was a lot I didn’t know about politics, candidates, and social issues.
That time in my life was pivotal because that was the moment I promised myself I would become informed on the issues of the day and vote in ways that aligned with my values. What that really meant was I would no longer take someone else’s word on how to vote. Instead, I would thoroughly research social and policy issues using reliable and factual information to make my decisions.
With our strategic priority on civic engagement, I hope we instill a similar passion and dedication among our students. Here at Chico State, Ann Schulte, director of Civic Engagement and a professor in the School of Education, and Mary Wallmark, director or Student Life and Leadership, have led efforts to encourage students to complete the census, to vote, and to educate themselves about the impact of voting at all levels, from local to national.
The impact could be tremendous, as together, Millennials and Gen Z will make up the largest share of eligible voters in 2020. Yet history tells us that these generations tend to have lower voting rates and do not fully deliver the voting power they could.
But there is good news. Inside Higher Education reported in September 2019, in the story “Massive Surge in Student Voting,” that college student voter turnout more than doubled from 2014 to the 2018 midterm elections, suggesting a traditionally apathetic voting bloc may have significant influence in this year’s races.
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement conducted a 2020 youth poll and reported that “young people cite barriers such as missing a deadline or lacking other information as the reason they did not register at much higher rates than older age groups.”
We aim to make sure that doesn’t happen here.
In a friendly statewide competition called the California University and College Ballot Bowl, I am delighted to report that Chico State continues to be a strong contender. The Ballot Bowl, which includes institutions from the community college, California State University, and University of California systems, was developed by the California Students Vote Project and aims to increase civic engagement and voter participation among our state’s college students by registering them to vote.
Registering is just the first step. As the 2020 general election draws near, the University has activities planned embedding the importance and significance of voting into coursework and teaching, as well as in student activities and events. A Faculty Development Friday Forum called “Vote Like Your Life Depends on It!” was held on September 18.
Other efforts include:
- Holding the “Vote Like Your Community Depends on It!” student workshop on September 24 and October 8. Participants will learn how the issues important to them are impacted at every level of the ballot, from city council member to president.
- Re-activating our TurboVote module, which reveals reminders and links to users who log into Wildcat Sync.
- Assisting in coordination of event logistics with the Butte County Clerk-Recorder’s office to make sure the Bell Memorial Union is a safe and efficient Voter Assistance Center, including having a ballot drop box outside the building.
I’d like to share with you some interesting facts from September 2019 from the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement, which produced a report on Chico State students voting results for 2014 and 2018. Overall, Chico State had a voting rate of 39.1% in 2018, up from 13.8% in 2014. The registration rate for 2018 was 69.8% with 56% of those registered actually turning out to vote. This places us on par with similar institutions nationwide.
Of those who voted, 70.9% voted by mail and 28.4% went to the polls in person on election day. It isn’t surprising that voting rates increase as a student progresses through college. Juniors vote more than first-year students at Chico State by a rate of 39.5% compared to 29.1% respectively.
Based on field of study, our history majors vote at the highest rate—55.7%—followed by philosophy and religious studies majors at 55% and education students at 54.2%. On the other end of the spectrum, lowest turnout in 2018 was among students in business administration, at 29.5%, followed by engineering majors at 30.3%, and recreation majors voting at 31.4%.
Showing the largest improvement from 2014 to 2018 were communication and journalism students, who increased their voting by 33.7 points.
My challenge for 2020—let’s do better. It’s up to us to set an example for our students, modeling civic engagement, encouraging their participation, and, most importantly, voting ourselves. Here are some dates to keep in mind:
- October 6: Official ballot drop box will be installed on campus
- October 19: Last day to register to vote
- October 31: Voter Assistance Center opens in the BMU though Election Day
- November 3: Election Day
As I learned in my early years of voting, it is not simply casting a ballot that is our civic duty—it’s doing so as an informed voter. Please vote responsibly.