Occidental College unveiled their new voting campaign, Oxy Votes, on National Voter’s Registration Day Sept. 22 in a campus-wide email. The new campaign aims to engage students in voter education and increase voter turnout.
Assistant Dean of Students and Director of SLICE Marcus Rodriguez coordinates Oxy Votes’ efforts. According to Rodriguez, the college felt it was important to focus on student voter education and mobilization and expand upon past voter registration initiatives, which previously only consisted of a website.
“Oxy Votes is part of a larger civic learning and democratic engagement focus in which we aim to nurture social responsibility and provide students with the knowledge, skills and abilities to make a difference,” Rodriguez said via email.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, for decades, voters ages 18–29 have had the lowest turnout of any age group in U.S. elections. In the 2016 presidential election, the youth vote was around 45 percent, almost 30 percent lower than voters age 60 and above. This trend remains true at Occidental, with only 47.4 percent of eligible student voters registering and only 34.9 percent of eligible student voters submitting voting in the 2016 election. In the 2018 election, student engagement decreased in both areas with only 44.2 percent of eligible student voters registering and 29.6 percent of eligible students voting.
Along with the new campaign, Occidental will have an 11-day voting center, which will be open to LA County residents and will use state-of-the-art equipment. LA County will have an updated design for mail-in ballots and additional new locations for in-person voting. According to the Oxy Votes website, the Oxy Vote Center will be a place to drop off your mail-in ballot, register to vote (even on the day of the election), get help voting in multiple languages and get a replacement vote-by-mail ballot if yours is lost or destroyed.
According to Hannah Rice, senior and co-president of Oxy Democrats, absentee ballots are completely reliable. The post office will not be aware of who or what a person has voted for and California allows voters to track their mail-in ballots. Mail-in ballots need to be postmarked by Nov. 3 to count in the election. According to Rice, the best way to ensure a mail-in ballot will be counted is to mail it in as soon as possible and place two postage stamps on it, although it is not necessary.
According to Rodriguez, the Oxy Vote center will be a safe and accessible in-person voting option, and the center will follow state and LA County public health guidelines to ensure a safe voting environment during COVID-19.
“Poll workers are tested on a daily basis, with the County managing all safety training,” Rodriguez said via email. “Communication and consultation with the County and senior health officials at Oxy has been a crucial part of the process.”
According to Justin Sell (senior), co-president of Oxy Democrats, a campaign like Oxy Votes is important because, although there is a lot of political discussion at Occidental, there is still a lack of political engagement. Sell said it is important for college students to start being politically engaged and vote since their generation will be living with the state of the world for many decades to come.
Rice said it is important for the college to get out the vote and give its students encouragement to vote.
“Young people are the ones being educated right now. We’re the ones who hold ideals of the future and know how we want our country to look,” Rice said. “If we’re not voting, [the election] is not going to reflect what we want in the country.”
To help student engagement, Oxy Democrats have created a voter guide, which includes information on how to vote in every state and their voter registration deadlines. Sell said Oxy Democrats will also be hosting virtual watch parties for the presidential debates and documentaries.
Cordelia Horch (junior), an intern at California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) which has recently started a New Voters Project to increase student engagement in voting, said that even if the presidential candidates are not favorable, she believes it is important to vote in this upcoming election. Horch said the election is more than the presidential candidates since it also determines state propositions and local elections, which all affect daily life.
“All of these things [on the ballot] shape the place in which you live. It’s important to be part of that process,” Horch said via email.
With 47 million youth eligible to vote, the youth vote can have an impact in the presidential election. According to Sell, almost all social activism, especially activism during the pandemic, has been done by the youth activists who often use media platforms to organize and call for social reform. Sell said it is important to voice these ideals through voting.
“Our generation is the largest and most diverse generation alive. We have the power to elect leaders who care about the things we do and make our voices heard,” Horch said via email. “I think a lot of young people don’t know this and don’t realize that we actually have the power to shape the future. However, this can only happen if we all vote.”