By Ellen Huet
In November, politically minded students at San Francisco State University worked doggedly to get 4,000 fellow students registered to vote before the presidential election — but felt frustrated when they couldn’t promise the new voters a polling place on campus.
“Since we were doing such a large registration effort, we felt it was important to supplement our efforts, to make sure those who registered actually went out and voted,” said Raymond Parenti-Kurttila, a San Francisco State senior.
Under proposed legislation from state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, introduced last week, students at San Francisco State — and any other California State University or University of California campus — would be guaranteed an on-campus polling place for any primary or general election held in the county. SB 240 would not require polling places for community colleges, because most community college students already live nearby.
In a similar move catered toward the youth vote, Yee passed legislation last year that would allow residents to register to vote or change addresses online. Almost 800,000 Californians registered to vote online, about 60 percent of whom were younger than 35, according to statistics provided by Yee’s office.
Adam Keigwin, Yee’s spokesman, said SB 240 is just expanding on the idea behind online voting. “If you make participating in elections easier, people will use it, especially young people,” Keigwin said.
It’s unclear whether the bill, if passed, would lead to higher voter participation among UC and CSU students. Most of the campuses already had on-campus polling places during the November election, and several campuses had multiple polling locations.
Sixteen of the 23 CSU campuses had polling places in November, said CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp. The San Jose, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Stanislaus campuses did not have polls, and Maritime and East Bay campuses offered shuttle services from the campus to nearby polling locations.
Of the UCs, only Riverside did not have an on-campus polling place on Election Day, said Steve Montiel, a spokesman for the UC Office of the President. (At UC Davis, students voted in the Memorial Union.)
Many students are registered to vote in other counties or states, which means they wouldn’t be able to vote at the on-campus polling places and would have to use vote-by-mail ballots. Since mail voting was first offered in the 1970s, the option has steadily risen in popularity. The November election marked the first time more Californians voted by mail than at the precinct — 51 to 49 percent.
Officials were not able to provide breakdowns of how many students vote by precinct as opposed to voting by mail. Generally, mail voters are older, and Bay Area voters are also more likely than voters in other counties to vote by mail, according to a 2009 Field Poll study. Parenti-Kurttila thinks the bill would make it easier for students to vote during short breaks between classes and would lead to more civically engaged students.
“I think just to create a little more of a homogenous culture in ensuring all universities have polling places on the campus works to ensure students have access and engage in the process,” he said.
San Francisco State lobbied successfully for a polling site on campus in November, but both sides said they had been frustrated with the process. Parenti-Kurttila said he and other students seeking the polling place encountered “a lot of resistance from the department” of elections.
John Arntz, the director of the city Department of Elections, said that setting up polling places at CSU campuses was more complicated than at other city locations because the school had complex regulations and permitting processes, and the experience had “sometimes been challenging.”
San Francisco State had a polling place on campus for the 2008 presidential election.
— Reach Ellen Huet at firstname.lastname@example.org