Prepping for the Polls

Words: Kelly Leslie

It’s the first Tuesday in November. Along with hundreds of fellow students, you make your way to the polling place to cast your vote before class. After months of listening to fervent political speeches and heated debates given by the country’s leading politicians, you know without hesitation which boxes you are going to check on the 2012 election ballot.

Slowly approaching the front of the line, it’s the moment every young adult anticipates at one point or another after their eighteenth birthday.You’re finally of the legal age to exercise the right to vote in an election that only happens once every four years. Handing your student ID card to the volunteer who is checking eager young voters in to cast their ballots, you’re sure nothing can stand between you and your political opinions now. Much to your surprise, you’re turned away. Somehow, you have been branded ineligible to vote.

“It’s my legal right as a United States citizen,” says Graham Woolsey, a first-year transfer student confident voting is a privilege that cannot be revoked. “I’m registered to vote so I should have no problems.”

This year voting may not be as easy as Woolsey say it is. Republican politicians have systematically been making it more difficult for certain populations (i.e., liberal-leaning folks) to vote. Thousands of students from across the country are at risk of being turned away from the polls because they do not possess proper government issued photo identification.

Although voter identification laws vary from state to state, there are some states that now require students to display a government-issued identification card when approaching the polls on Election Day, according to political science Professor Jason McDaniel. This poses a problem for students who are unaware of these laws, because many will no longer be able to rely on their student ID cards as a valid form of identification. The Republican lawmakers say stricter voter identification laws are the most efficient way to prevent fraudulent voting and have already implemented such legislature in states including major swing states Pennsylvania and Ohio. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have even taken voter identification laws as far as turning away anyone who does not possess a valid state ID. This means that out-of-state students will not be able to vote in Pennsylvania without obtaining a new form of identification.

Despite the lawmakers justification of the recent identification legislature, Michael Guadamuz, president of the San Francisco State University College Democrats, has a theory that the laws may be an effort to keep Democratic college students from being able to participate in the elections. “Everyone thinks it, but no one comes out and says it,” exclaims Guadamuz, who thinks the laws are “a solution to a nonexistent problem.” According to him, “There have only been ten cases of voter fraud in the United States since 2010.”

Led with full force by Guadamuz, the College Democrats on campus advocate student voting by helping to educate and register young voters in preparation for the elections, but discussing voter identification laws is not on their agenda for this year.

“Multiple states have passed voter ID laws,” says Guadamuz. “Fortunately no such laws have been passed in California.” He does not foresee any form of voter identification regulations affecting students who attend institutions in California anytime soon, but prepping for the polls is still a good idea for anyone who wishes to participate in the election.

The greatest issue Guadamuz does foresee is that students may face confusion about where and how they are supposed to vote.

“They might not be completely informed or they might be told they are not allowed to vote,” he says.

According to him, many students are misinformed when determining where they are supposed to register, because they often live at a different address than their parents. The College Democrats encourage students to register on campus so that they will be eligible to vote at the SF State polling location. If a student chooses to register with their parent’s home address, the advocates recommend that they apply for a vote-by-mail ballot.

If strict voter laws are out of the question for students in the Golden State, what is keeping them away from the elections? Chrissy Faessen, a representative from Rock the Vote, says young adults get held back due negative perceptions of them.

“Older generations accuse young voters of being apathetic,” says Faessen. “But they are far from apathetic. They are volunteering and engaging [within] their communities.”

In the face of this attempts at stripping away basic rights of citizenship, young voters do have some people on their side. Rock the Vote is a nation-wide organization that empowers young adults to vote by providing them with the skills and education they need to make informed political opinions. The organizations goal is to “reinvigorate the country’s democracy and redefine citizenship for a generation in 2012 and beyond,” according to their mission statement. Touring the United States by bus, Rock the Vote invites musicians of all genres, including Madonna and Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg), in an effort to grab the attention of the potentially powerful youth voting bloc, which makes up almost a quarter of the electorate. With a desire to build a bridge over what seems like a monumental gap separating young adults from politicians, Rock the Vote works to build connections between the two. Faessen says the organization’s ultimate goal is that the youth vote becomes powerful enough that politicians recognize the needs of young voters. According to her, the campaign must be working because 2008 was the largest young voter turnout since 1971, when they were given the right to participate in elections.

Older generations often have the perception that most students don’t vote and if they do they tend to vote Democrat, says Robert Smith, a political science professor at SF State. His opinion?
“Students generally think other things are more important,” he says. “It takes some time before young people settle down and establish a habit of voting.”

Ruthless commentary and fiery arguments commonly fill campus halls after a presidential debate, but that doesn’t mean everyone is confident in their opinions. For Dilon Reynolds, a junior at SF State, making up his mind is not always easy when it comes to deciding who will govern the country. Reynolds has decided not to vote for a presidential candidate this term, because he worries his current opinions may change.

“I don’t really follow politics and I don’t want to do something wrong,” says Reynolds. “I’m uneducated about the subjects and I don’t want to vote for someone and have it be a big mistake in the long run.”

Spending his free time in his cubicle in the Associated Students Incorporated office, Raymond Parenti-Kurttila, vice president of external affairs, brainstorms ways to give students confidence in their political agency. Contrary to perceptions that their vote won’t impact politics, Parenti-Kurttila thinks the future of the CSU school system depends on students’ investment in the elections. He encourages students to take an interest in state measure 30, which would temporarily increase taxes to fund education, and local measure A, which would provide funding for the City College of San Francisco through a parcel tax over the course of eight years. According to Parenti-Kurttila, these measures are “a direct interest for students to get out and vote.”

Also working to make voting an easy experience for students on campus by “actively educating and registering students,” Parenti-Kurttila says this year is the first year that students will be able to take advantage of online registration, making it more convenient than ever. Parenti-Kurttila thinks this election year is one of the most important ones for the youth vote, as issues surrounding higher education are at stake. The youth, he says, has a power that is just waiting to be fully exercised.

“Historically the people with the power have looked toward the youth, they just need to express their interest,” he says. “Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, there will be an issue that is relevant to you.”