In normal times, VoteSC would be tabling on Trousdale, helping students register to vote and sign up for election updates. But, like many other student organizations, the nonpartisan group had to switch to a virtual format and hold their voter registration drive exclusively online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sept. 22 was National Voter Registration Day, a day of action for political organizations and campaigns to register new voters in time for the Nov. 3 presidential election. To celebrate, VoteSC partnered with the Undergraduate Student Government, USC Political Student Assembly, the Trojan Democrats and the Center for the Political Future to help as many USC students as possible to register to vote.
As of 3:30 pm on Sept. 22, VoteSC had registered and engaged 240 students on National Voter Registration Day. Amanda Li, the co-president of VoteSC, described the level of engagement as far greater than what would have been on Trousdale.
“If we were to go table in the middle of campus, we might be lucky to get like 20 or 30 people,” Li said.
Since it began to register students in 2016, VoteSC has registered close to 3,000 students.
Li described the effort as the first step to empower people to use their voice. With the organization targeting college students specifically, Li hopes registration will improve the youth voter turnout, which she argued is the most important voting block.
“We are going to be the people that grow up into the policies that are essentially voted into office,” Li said. “The more people we can register to vote, it will really create a representative government that we want to see.”
Some USC students who are registered to vote agreed on the role voting can play in influencing future policies. Jordan Yadegar, a sophomore studying theater, registered to vote last year but said he looks forward to voting in his first general election in November. He cast his first ballot in the California primary back in March.
While he is unsure how impactful his individual vote will be in an overwhelmingly blue state like California, Yadegar believes he should still vote.
“I think it’s important to have a voice,” Yadegar said. “It’s an opportunity to make a real change in our government in a turning point that can go either way and could really affect the future.”
Yadegar echoed a larger trend occurring across the country.
In a national poll conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics, 18 to 29-year-olds were enthusiastic to vote in the upcoming presidential election. 63% of the age group surveyed said they will definitely vote in November. Only 47% responded the same way in the 2016 survey.
While enthusiasm for voting appears to be on the rise among younger voters, Riya Mehta, the vice president of marketing for VoteSC, said voter apathy still holds back some young people.
“A lot of people feel like they don’t have a right to have a say in politics,” Mehta said. “Or they feel it’s as though they don’t know enough to feel comfortable voting.”
Li said sometimes life can seem so overwhelming to 18-year-olds who experience so many pivotal moments, registering to vote and voting itself can get lost in the shuffle.
Such is the case for Ryan Addiego. The junior studying computer science has not yet registered to vote. He originally planned to register in high school, but put it off after forgetting his Social Security number. Now, a few years later, he said he does not feel any urgency to register to vote in time to participate in the November election.
“We’re in a blue state, which is what I would vote this year anyway, so I don’t think my vote would actually do anything,” Addiego said.
Ross disagrees. While a state like California is likely to vote Democrat for the presidential election, there are smaller races on the ballot that also matter.
“Look at all of your local races, including the judges, because not enough people look at that,” said Ross. “Even if you think it’s so minuscule, it isn’t.”
With an in-person setting, VoteSC would usually engage further with more apathetic voters to explain why they should register to vote, but the online format does create a barrier to reaching unregistered students.
One workaround VoteSC discovered is through targeting underrepresented demographics.
“We can reach a specific [organization] and say, ‘Oh we need to have more people who are involved in STEM register to vote,’ so we partner specifically with STEM oriented orgs,” Mehta said.
To promote greater voter registration and turnout among students beyond National Voter Registration Day, VoteSC also partnered with other university organizations, most notably the USC Athletics department. With the rest of the semester staying online, the university could no longer host a voting center on campus.
“But then USC Athletics really stepped up and offered the Galen Center,” said Li.
The University announced that in-person voting would be available from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3 at the Galen Center in an email Sept. 22 promoting voter registration. The email also noted that voter registration numbers among USC students climbed from 16% in 2014 to 45% in 2018.
The registration effort itself is year-round, but the day of action brings greater awareness to information pertaining to the election and voting, according to Ross.
“It shows how important it is that we actually need a day for this because not enough people are registered,” Ross said.
Ross emphasized the importance of registering to vote regardless of political party affiliation or attitude towards the year’s ballot.
“There’s no harm in registering to vote,” Ross said. “You can make that choice for yourself when that time comes, but if you don’t do it in time, on Election day, you won’t have that option.”
To register to vote, visit votesc.turbovote.org.