USC fails to provide on-campus voting sites for the 2021 recall election

The absence of ballot drop-off boxes on campus created a different atmosphere for students voting in Tuesday’s recall compared to the 2020 presidential election.

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USC did not have a single ballot drop-off box or polling center on campus for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recall election Tuesday, prompting concerns about low political participation among students.

While students could vote at the Galen Center on campus for the 2020 presidential election and Democratic Primary, they had to venture off campus to cast their votes for the recent recall election, where the Democratic governor survived a Republican-backed effort to oust him from his post.

The nearest ballot drop-off boxes to campus were located at the Masjid Umar Ibn Al-Khattab Mosque on Exposition Boulevard, Vermont Avenue Elementary School about a mile north of University Village and a single box on the far side of Exposition Park at the Ahmanson Senior Center — a mile walk from Ronald Tutor Campus Center.

Adam Dessouky, an economics major, feared the lack of ballot drop-off boxes on campus would put off his peers from voting.

“If there are student voters that are a bit apathetic about it, a distance of even a mile walking might be enough to have someone not [vote],” Dessouky said.

The distance from USC also posed accessibility concerns for students who may not have the ability to drive, walk or take the Metro to off-campus locations.

Christian Burks, a senior public policy major and co-director of the student civic engagement club Vote SC, agreed that any kind of “friction” to the voter process often deters people from voting. However, he felt like generating momentum on campus around the recall election was an even bigger issue.

According to Burks, the short time frame between the start of the semester and election day made it “very hard” to mobilize Vote SC’s usual election efforts.

“We weren’t able to fully mobilize to what we would have liked to have done if it [the election] were later in the semester or just like a normal election year,” Burks said.

Instead, Vote SC worked with campus partners like the Dornsife Center for the Political Future, and shared resources on social media to educate students about the recall effort.

However, Burks recognized many of the efforts put on by the Center were tailored toward students who are already “politically minded” and understood the recall effort. Hence, he felt like students who may be less interested in politics were left out of the conversation this time around.

“I feel like a lot of the non-political students on campus plugged in last year [for the 2020 election] and they’re a little burned out,” Burks said. “So I think that may be true, that there is less pressure on them [the administration] to kind of provide the resources this year that they provided last year.”

Kambiz Akhavan, the executive director at the Dornsife Center for the Political Future, said planning election efforts — like setting up on campus ballot boxes and staffing a polling center — take time.

“These efforts require a great deal of advanced coordination between election officials, USC and students to set up and fund; steps that are usually taken for midterm and presidential elections,” Akhavan said.

Akhavan added while students didn’t have the convenience of on-campus voting, they could easily vote by mail.

“While the placement of ballot drop boxes are determined by LA County, because of the pandemic, the California secretary of state’s office issued ballots to all eligible voters who could drop off their completed ballots at any mailbox.”

Burks saw the recall election as a test of USC’s voting capabilities.

“It’s really a test of your voting infrastructure capacity where there’s an election like’s still rather sudden and it requires quick mobilization,” Burks said. “This election in particular is a test of outreach.”

He hopes the recall will help USC plan for the future, such as the 2022 California gubernatorial election.

“Having a better general outreach infrastructure, infrastructure for voting and providing resources would be really helpful.” Burks said. “It [the recall] was a very nontraditional election and it is difficult to engage people as much as a normal election.”