Accessible Voting in Santa Cruz

Now is the time, the polls are the place

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Every voter knows that feeling you get after you cast a ballot — that swell of pride, the uncontainable joy of slapping on an “I Voted” sticker and having everyone you pass notice that star-spangled icon of civic  engagement.

But when stickers aren’t incentive enough, alternative forms of voting and direct community action increase the likelihood that students turn out to vote. In anticipation of the midterm elections in November, UC Santa Cruz students and community organizers are encouraging  everyone to get to the polls.

Illustration by Darin Connolly

“If everyone thinks [voting] doesn’t matter, nothing’s going to happen,” said Alex Hiatt, a fourth-year transfer student who was inspired to get involved in local politics after coming to UCSC. “There is power in numbers. You need a lot of people to make a difference.”

To make voting as accessible as possible, the UCSC Office of Government and Community Relations has established  a conditional polling location in Quarry  Plaza.

“We are now one of three conditional polling locations in the county,” said Government and Community Relations director Melissa Whatley. “Starting Nov. 3, until Nov. 6 anyone can show up and cast a provisional ballot.”

Provisional ballots allow people to register and vote at the same time, providing an option for people who forgot to register or who are unsure of where they are registered to cast their ballots. Provisional ballots are counted after election officials confirm the person’s registration and check that they haven’t already voted in another county. Voting by mail is another option available for people who can’t get to polling locations on Nov. 6.

“Things like child care, illness or work obligations may deter people,” said Santa Cruz Indivisible communications director Amanda Altice in an email, “especially if they take it for granted or feel like their voice isn’t heard or their vote doesn’t really count or politics doesn’t really  affect them.”

Voting by mail helps people with busy schedules, but to inspire people who feel disconnected from politics, Santa Cruz Indivisible and the UCSC Office of Government and Community Relations recommends talking about elections with peers.

“I think listening to what young people have to say and how they want their world to look, then empowering them to [vote] is how you make that change,” said Altice. “If you can get them to understand that they have the ability to change things in their community, that can be a pretty  powerful thing.”

Deciding what, or who, to vote for can also be difficult for new voters. Ballot language is often dense and technical, which makes it difficult to unpack the nuances of arguments on different measures. It can also be hard to find sources that provide accessible and non-partisan information about issues on the ballot. Peer-to-peer discussions about proposed measures can alleviate the burden of doing research  alone.

“It’s important to focus on making the conversations accessible,” Alex Hiatt said. “People need help to navigate the complexities of each measure. Talking to people is better than reading the ballot pro and con statements because those are usually really confusing. It wouldn’t take long to educate people if it was done in  a  forum.”

Hiatt recalled being introduced to community organizing spaces like the SubRosa community space on Pacific Avenue and credits her friends for getting her invested in local elections. Now that she feels confident about voting, she offers her guidance to peers who see it as  a hassle.

She’ll talk through the ballot with them over dinner or coffee and help them see how easy voting can be. Even a short conversation can inspire someone to vote, which is why Santa Cruz Indivisible organized a team of almost 60 volunteers to go door to door talking to locals about voting in November.

 “One on one in-person interactions are the best way to reach people,” Amanda Altice said in an email. “This outreach comes in different forms like phone calls, tabling and canvassing. Who’s to say what will resonate with someone to encourage them to vote, but having the discussion will hopefully plant the seed that they really do matter and should not let others speak for them by not participating.”

Conversations about voting help demystify the election process and hold everyone accountable to see voting as a civic responsibility rather than an inconvenient burden.

“As much as I would like to say it’s my advocacy and effort that gets people involved, it  really is peer to peer,” said Melissa Whatley, director of UCSC’s Community Government Relations office. “I think that’s where the most potential for deep interaction and involvement  happens.”

The Quarry Plaza conditional voting location will be open starting Nov. 3 and will continue through Nov. 6. More information about on campus polling locations and their hours is available at https://urelations.ucsc.edu/about/units/government/vote/index.html