On Oct. 20, there was a voter registration drive on campus.
Assemblyman Jon Benoit and Bruce McPherson, California secretary of state, spoke to a small crowd of students and faculty from a podium in front of the Martin Luther King building. There was free pizza, soda and chips and a van was parked in the middle of Riverside street to register new voters. Red, white and blue bunting on the registration table added a patriotic touch to the occasion. To all appearances, American democracy was in full swing.
Now for what REALLY HAPPENED: the food was popular, but the speeches were delayed while sponsors pleaded with passersby to sit down for a moment and listen. Of those who were sitting in the hot sun waiting, many were political science students and faculty who were there only for a class assignment. The registration van staff were idle, and the flow of students passing by hardly paused to notice anything except the free lunch on the way to class. Welcome to American democracy.
The voter drive was an attempt to get many students too busy to get involved a chance to register to vote. McPherson used his time on the podium to speak of how important it is to vote. “California deserves better than this,” he said. And it is indeed hard to disagree with this opinion. California does deserve better. He gave examples of past vote counts that were decided by minimal votes, and he said that often elections are decided by one or two votes. In other words, every vote makes a difference.
Here’s the rub; College students, especially in community college, are some of the busiest people anywhere. Whether an undergrad pulling 18 units per semester, or older students attending college in addition to full-time jobs, children, and the occasional need to sleep. They are way too preoccupied with their own lives to be distracted by politics. But despite the schedule conflict, it is still vital for them to get out and vote.
The excuse most often heard for not voting is the lack of time. This, unfortunately, is absolutely true. Polling places are usually crowded and hard to find on Election Day, and even if you can take the time off work, the act of voting is still more of a hassle than many of us have the time to deal with. As a result, elections tend to favor the elderly and retired, people with ample time for involvement in politics. The people most likely to be affected by the election are the younger voters, the people who usually are the ones most likely to get burned by the new laws or politicians that are voted in. If young people are too busy to vote, how can they help getting screwed on Election Day?
The key for busy people who still want to participate in the democratic process is both simple and convenient; this is to register to vote by permanent absentee voter status. The registrar of voters, three weeks to a month before Election Day, mails you a ballot the same as the one you would otherwise stand in line at the polling place to fill out. There is even a pencil, and filling out the ballot is no more complicated than filling out a Scantron. You tear off the receipts, put the ballots in the gray envelope provided and seal it in the mailing envelope. The most difficult part is finding a stamp with which to mail it. The ballot is valid as long as it is post-marked on or before Election Day. In each election, the ballot shows up in your mail, it’s as simple as that.
So for anyone who will take the time to take this step, the voting process immediately becomes simple and convenient. Young people represent a huge block of voters and your vote is too important for you to waste, so this year, go home and vote.