The majority-Republican-led movement to oust California Governor Gavin Newsom comes to a head on Sept. 14, as state residents vote in the recall election.
The UC Santa Barbara chapter of the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) is hoping to increase civic engagement for the recall amongst students at the university by reaching out directly to students.
CALPIRG, founded in the 1970s by UC students looking to make social change, is the state’s chapter of political organization U.S. PIRG — a federation of nonprofit Public Interest Research Groups. With a student chapter at UCSB, it has become one of the largest and most well-known political groups on campus.
Every election cycle, CALPIRG’s New Voters Project — a national program that focuses on registering college students and young voters — kicks into gear. The New Voters Project, run in tandem with other states’ student PIRG chapters, is the oldest and largest nonpartisan voter mobilization project in the country.
“We work in states across the country to engage the youth in elections,” current organizing director Ori Liwanag said. Liwanag graduated from UC Riverside in 2020 before joining UCSB’s chapter of CALPIRG as a staff member. “We know that if students are registered and turn out to vote, we can make a really big impact in elections and move the public towards the things we want to see as young people.”
On Aug. 30, CALPIRG student volunteers were joined by California Secretary of State Shirley Weber at a phone banking initiative for UC students. According to Liwanag, the goals of the initiative were threefold, and they were able to reach more than 900 students in a three-hour block.
“[CALPIRG was] one, making sure [students] knew the election was happening,” Liwanag said. “Two, making sure that their registration was updated. And three, [checking] that they had a plan to actually submit their ballot once they received it.”
Working alongside them in the Gauchos Vote Coalition are the Voter Registration Volunteer Coalition and other student groups under the direction of the Director of Civic & Community Engagement Viviana Marsano from the UCSB Office of Student Engagement & Leadership.
Marsano, who has been sending out recall information to students for weeks, explained that the university is required by two separate laws — the 1998 reauthorization of the Federal Higher Education Act and the 1960 Donahoe Higher Education Act — to make a good faith effort to make voter registration and information widely available to its students.
Given the specific nature of the recall election, Secretary Weber approached multiple colleges and universities to ask about participation and has since been working alongside the coalition, providing funding and toolkits to assist volunteers and staff.
“Because of [the recent increase in youth participation in voting], there is even more of an expectation from the Secretary of State,” Marsano continued. “And one important thing is that these efforts are nonpartisan … so a lot of the graphics and messaging [the emails] use are coming from the Secretary of State.”
Past efforts from the coalition have entailed going to floor meetings during freshman move-in to register new students, but she noted that COVID-19 precautions are preventing them from doing it this year.
Instead, new voter registration efforts happened in Zoom meetings, through volunteers from the Gauchos Vote Coalition. In normal years, Marsano said, “[the coalition] registers between 2,800 and 3,000 students in two days.”
Members of the coalition truly believe that every effort counts.
“For the largest and most diverse generation in American history, civic engagement is more important than ever,” Liwanag said.
“Students, often, are told that their voices are small or that they don’t matter or that they don’t know enough, but it shows in the numbers that if all of us turn out and use our voices, we can — and will — make a really big impact in the election and shape the future of our country,” he continued.
“It is our country, and it is our future, and it is our responsibility. And we have the opportunity to take up these issues and make a difference on them.”