UC Riverside is a winner in the 2020 Ballot Bowl, registering the highest percentage of students to vote among University of California campuses.
The campus registered 1,294 students to vote, or about 5% of the student body, during the competition period from Aug. 17 to Nov. 3.
The competition is part of the California Students Vote project sponsored by the California Secretary of State, which has worked with colleges and universities to encourage more students to vote.
Gerardo Medina, leadership and service programs coordinator with Student Life, said the campus has made a concerted effort since 2016 to increase registration and voting among students.
“We want to make voting and civic engagement a pillar of the Highlander experience,” Medina said.
The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, which tracks college voting numbers and is separate from the Ballot Bowl, reported UCR has seen a steady increase since 2012. From that year to 2016, the registration and voting percentage in presidential elections both increased 2.2%. For the mid-term election in 2018, the registration rate went up 13.4% and the voting rate went up 25.5% compared to 2014. The group has not yet released 2020 numbers.
Medina is a member of the Civic Engagement Workgroup made up of representatives from Student Life, Governmental and Community Relations, Center for Social Innovation, Residential Life, ASUCR, ASPB, CALPIRG, and the Civic Engagement Coalition. Their collaboration was crucial to their success, he and other members said.
“It was really inspirational to know that our students showed up to vote,” said Emily Thomas, 20, a third-year public policy major who leads the Civic Engagement Coalition and serves as civic engagement director for ASUCR.
The coalition and work group put together a number of efforts to educate students about the 2020 election, reaching them through social media, by phone, and through online activities. The work group also hosted a weekly civics hour on Zoom.
At the local level, the group held a mayoral forum inviting city of Riverside candidates. They developed a strategic social media campaign involving organizations such as UCR Athletics and Greek Life groups, which reposted and shared information.
The coronavirus pandemic forced them to change their plans as most students were no longer on campus, Medina said. Instead, they shifted to engaging students wherever they were.
A crucial element of the effort was helping students verify they were properly registered at their current location, Medina said. In past years, they had encouraged students who lived on campus to register to vote in Riverside.
“This was a historic election, students were already aware of the importance of working together,” Thomas said.
Students from the California Public Interest Research Group, or CALPIRG at UCR, also made local, state, and national elections a priority. CALPIRG is a statewide organization run by students and with student representation at most California colleges and universities, including UCR.
CALPIRG at UCR registered 400 new voters. The group had 54 student volunteers who personally contacted more than 200 UCR students, and provided educational content and resources to 1,800 students, said Kathryn Gonzalez-Valle, campus organizer with CALPIRG at UCR. The volunteers logged 450 phone-banking hours.
CALPIRG at UCR developed a Get Out to Vote campaign, focusing on one strong message for their fellow classmates: Students have a lot of power.
“We are calling students to see they have power,” said Ori Liwanag, CALPIRG at UCR vice chair. “We have the power to make a difference. Our generation can drive change and make a future that works for us.”