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Your voice matters 

Students can vote, get involved in local politics, and affect the change they want to see

About 46.1 percent of eligible 18- to 29-year-old voters cast their voice in the 2016 presidential election: the lowest turnout of any age bracket.

"The highest voter turnout is the age brackets of their parents and grandparents. So their parents and grandparents are deciding on the votes that will affect their lives," said Rosemary Wrenn, the chair of the San Luis Obispo Democratic Party. "The only way [laws and policies] are going to be reflective of their desires and the things that are important to them is to get out and vote."

Wrenn said there's a fallacy out there: that students believe their votes don't matter. All they have to do is look at our local races to see that this isn't the case, she said. More than 18,000 voters cast ballots in the June 2018 primary election for SLO County 4th District Supervisor, which incumbent Lynn Compton won by only 60 votes.

Local policy issues such as a lack of housing directly affect students at Cal Poly and Cuesta College, Wrenn added.

"There's really not words to articulate how important it is for the young people in our county and in our country to get out and vote right now. Their vote really matters," Wrenn said. "You can vote in your pajamas. You don't have to miss class. You don't have to miss work."

Wrenn said the Democratic Party has worked with local high schools to get the word out to 12th graders that students can pre-register to vote before they turn 18. The California Motor Voter program, approved by Gov. Jerry Brown in February 2018, automatically registers eligible voters who apply for a driver's license, identification card, or change of address with the Department of Motor Vehicles, unless they choose to opt out.

Roberta Martin, president of the Cal Poly College Republicans club, said students could also register to vote online through their Cal Poly portal accounts. Martin described voting and political involvement as an act of love for the country and its citizens.

"When you turn 18, you become a legal adult and a full member of our society. You now have full and autonomous access to the rights protected in the Constitution; you have the full weight of punishment as dictated by law," Martin said in an email. "College students tend to have the time and energy to not only show up on voting day, but to spread ideas, awareness, and understanding to citizens with less time, means, or education."

As an active club, Martin said the College Republicans has worked with several campaigns over the past year and are supporting local, state, and national candidates this fall by tabling, canvassing, and hosting speaking events. Recently, the club appointed an ambassador to help develop a stronger working relationship with the Republican Party of San Luis Obispo.

About 700 students are on the club's emailing list, and last year, the club had about 50 to 70 active members per quarter—students who paid their dues and attended two of the last six meetings. The College Republicans will have membership tables on campus during Cal Poly's Week of Welcome for incoming freshmen and is hosting a barbecue on the first day of school.

Cal Poly Democrats will also hold Week of Welcome events and is participating in the Cal Poly club showcase on Sept. 23. Ian Levy, club co-president, said the Dems are starting out the school year with 25 active students. The club works closely with the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party, where students have the opportunity to get involved in local politics and intern with state, local, and national candidates.

He said registering to vote takes as long or less than the length of your favorite song.

"Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, getting involved with the political process is beyond important," Levy said in an email. "Getting involved as early as you can gives you the time to learn and experience politics for yourself. ... Vote and see how it impacts you. Vote locally. Vote statewide. Vote nationally. See what happens."

One group of Cal Poly political science students was able to affect change at the state level by working with Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) and other California college students on a bill that Gov. Brown signed on Aug. 27. The bill urges textbook publishers to post a detailed description in a prominent place about how the newest edition differs from the previous edition and requires that students get the option of buying instructional materials separately, rather than bundled together.

Cunningham said passage of the bill shows that anyone from any age group can make a difference.

"It shows that working together, as this was a group of over 20 students for all around the state, is vital in making that difference," Cunningham said. "Each year, the Legislature passes thousands of bills that will affect every Californian. These laws affect students now and will affect them in the future." Δ

Reach Editor Camillia Lanham at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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