Beyond the Ballot Box

Come Election Day, all students will receive a special present from the A.S. Council: free A.S. lecture notes. Officially titled the “Resolution to Support Student Voting,” this new measure is intended to urge students to vote by giving free online access to A.S. lecture notes, thus leaving students free to skip class and head to the booths. The measure was originally proposed by A.S. intern Arshya Sharifian, and passed last Wednesday.

The lecture note initiative will start on Nov. 8, 2011 and, according to A.S. President Wafa Ben Hassine, each successive A.S. Council will determine if the program continues.

It’s great that A.S. Council wants students to take part in every November election. According to Sharifian, this is council’s effort to recognize that it’s hard to get out and vote, and their attempt to make sure it happens. And sure, it’s nice that students in participating classes will have free access to A.S. lecture notes on election days. But let’s be realistic — the connection between receiving free notes and voting is tenuous at best.

It’s important to remember that before students are even able to enter the polls and cast their ballots, they have to register to vote. According to Anthony Eastman at the County of San Diego Registrar of Voters, UCSD voter turnout reached 81.5 percent at last November’s midterm election, with 2,655 ballots cast  out of 3,259 registered voters on campus.

Though turnout itself is high, the actual number of registered voters on campus comprises only 9 percent of students — an embarrassingly small percentage. In a perfect world, free lecture notes might be incentive enough to go out and vote, but a day’s worth of free notes isn’t going to be enough to persuade them to the polls — or, more importantly, to register in the first place.

So when only about 9 percent of UCSD undergraduates are even registered, A.S. Council’s priorities should be directed to incentivizing people to take the first step to voting, not targeting the few on campus who have already expressed a semblance of political activism.

In recent presidential elections, voting turnout has increased among voters ages 18 to 29, which goes to show that students — and the entire rest of the population — will vote if motivated, obstacles be damned. So, it’s not a big leap to assume students that truly care about voting can find 15 minutes between lectures to hit the polls. Students who care enough about politics or have enough civic responsibility to vote will undoubtedly take the time out of their day — even if it does mean missing lecture. And if you’re not registered to vote, then come Election Day, all the A.S. Council motivation in the world won’t bring you to the polls.

The ones who aren’t interested won’t be tempted by a day of notes that they can get for free whether they register or not. And the notes, being online, are available to everyone, voter or not. One way to get around the problem of students abusing the free lecture notes is requiring voters to show their “I Voted” stickers. That way, those who actually take the time to vote will benefit, while those who weren’t planning on voting might be given a little extra incentive to hit the polls.

Not to mention that the overwhelming majority of professors don’t even use A.S. lecture notes. In fact, only 35 professors out of 1,057 subscribe to the service — most students just rely on podcasts and professors’ online notes or friends in class when they miss lecture.

While students in those 35 classes will be benefiting from the new measure, the resolution has negligible effect on the rest of the university. Those students are such a small minority that A.S. Council’s measure will be little more than symbolic.

Additionally, the November voting season happens to overlap with midterms — and we all know that simply putting A.S. lecture notes online won’t be enough motivation to convince any “true” UCSD students to leave their textbooks or venture out of Geisel Library’s hallowed halls to vote. This November’s election in particular, the first one during which this service will be offered, is one with few voter-mobilizing measures on the ballot, meaning that it’s not a good year to measure the success of the program.

Finally, free lecture notes won’t matter much if students have classes that take attendance. If council really wanted to take a stand in favor of voting, it could try to convince professors not to schedule midterms or papers on Election Day.

Instead of just helping those already involved, council should focus its efforts on initiatives like its voting drives.

To motivate students to register, A.S. Council should focus more on raising awareness. In addition to their voting drives, council could publicize polling booths, post more flyers and even send e-mail reminders.

In truth, students will most likely not even hear of this new measure, unless A.S. Council wants to throw down money to promote the campaign.

In the end, A.S. Council has the right idea in wanting to motivate students to vote, and this initiative certainly doesn’t hurt. But with all the obstacles working against it, councilmembers will have to hit the ground running to ensure that it doesn’t become another ineffective waste of time and energy.

Additional reporting by Cheryl Hori.

Readers can contact Margaret Yau at [email protected].

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