The California Public Interest Research Group has launched its 2020 New Voters Project in an effort to register young and first-time voters before the November election. This campaign is a part of the larger, nonpartisan Student PIRGS New Voters Project, which incorporates campus groups across the country.
CALPIRG is a nonprofit, student-composed organization that aims to research, educate, and lobby for the California state government to address social issues. It derives its funding from University of California student fees given on a voluntary basis. Examples of past years’ campaigns include efforts to save bees, decrease tuition rates, and participation in the 2018 New Voters Project. According to the CALPIRG website, the 2018 campaign led to the registration of more than 6,000 new voters.
The UCSD Guardian spoke with Veronika Michels, UC San Diego’s CALPIRG campus organizer, to discuss the overall goal of this year’s project.
“Our topline goal that guides all of our work is helping young people vote,” Michels said. “It’s in our name, but we especially want to help new voters navigate the often confusing process and long term become lifelong civically engaged members of society. Young people have been at the forefront of social movements throughout history and are still advocating for issues that they care about, all around the country.”
At the time of this article’s publication, CALPIRG has registered 4,000 new student voters. According to Michels, the New Voters Project aims to register 6,000 additional voters by Nov. 3, and to send out thousands of “Get out the Vote” reminders leading up to election day.
Individuals receive these text and email reminders by pledging to vote online. The 2020 pledge has added the condition of asking students “to vote safely” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting they register to vote online and request mail or absentee ballots if their state allows it.
These virtual reminders have been a part of the New Voters Project for a number of years, but their relevance takes on a new role in 2020. Traditionally, CALPIRG reaches students at UCSD by maintaining an active campus presence, including in-person class announcements and taking part in tabling and flyering on Library Walk. However, amidst campus closures, current volunteers are forced to utilize predominantly online forms of outreach. This summer and fall, CALPIRG is attempting to reach students by attending Zoom classes, collaborating with professors and student organizations to spread the word, and asking interns to make sure their friends pledge to vote online.
“This is definitely a major concern, but we’re adapting,” Michels said. “A major challenge is reaching brand new students, especially transfers and freshmen, most of whom have never even stepped foot on the UCSD campus but will join us in Fall. This year they’re missing out on the opportunity to be part of an in-person campus community, move-in-day registration, and other activities, which is why it is especially important that our campus administrators are also involved with giving students the ability to reach their peers on this issue, wherever possible.”
The UCSD Guardian spoke with Ally Lawler, a fourth year student in Roger Revelle College, about her role as a remote CALPIRG intern this year.
“Many of CALPIRG’s outreach methods take place in person and COVID has led the organization to adapt to remote approaches, such as class announcements in Zoom Lectures,” Lawler said. “We are still dedicated to building strong relationships with students and providing a platform for them to pursue their political passions and flourish as self advocates.”
Drew Avolese, a UC Santa Barbara alumnus, also shared his experiences as an intern.
“In terms of outreach, we use phone and text banking to contact individuals to ask them to pledge to vote this November, which can help them get information on voting and letting elected officials know that young people will have a big role in the upcoming election,” Avolese said. “We are also contacting Student Organizations from UCSB and UCSD and coordinating with them to get out the vote and take our pledge… One of the main reasons I joined was also because of the pandemic and knowing that the organization would have a more difficult time getting young voters registered.”
Currently, there are more than 300 UC student interns working for the New Voters Project, with 40 being UCSD students. These interns are unpaid, instead being given the option to gain course credits in exchange for their work as long as they have a faculty member from their university to sponsor them. According to Michels, the internship itself also acts as a weekly class that teaches students about topics like the history of student activism and campaign strategy.
“My internship with CALPIRG’s NVP is great because it also acts as a class to teach its members about political activism and how to develop the skills to either further our abilities in political work or even how to be [a] proper political citizen,” Avolese said. “On one of [our] workdays, we all read an article on political activism and have a discussion in smaller groups about how that can help us with the New Voters Project. It taught me that activism is something that has to be developed, and not just a heroic action that one spontaneously takes.”
Neither Avolese nor Lawler are receiving course credits for their internship.
“I joined CALPIRG because I am determined to shift the tide in voter turnout rates in this country,” Lawler explained. “The youth must make their political presence known, their values respected and their issues addressed. As the largest and most diverse group of potential voters, we must be a political voice for ourselves and the individuals who do not have the ability to directly vote. My encouragement is to express yourself and submit your ballot.”
The 2020 New Voters Project will conclude on Nov. 3, but the Student PIRGS New Voters Project will continue into the 2022 election season.
Image courtesy of CALPIRG.