Clad in bright blue campaign t-shirts, 19 members of Cal Poly Democrats distributed pieces of pizza on top of small, laminated campaign flyers to students on the yakʔitʸutʸu lawn.
They were not advocating for Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Instead, they chatted with freshmen about why they should vote for Ellen Beraud, a candidate running for District 5 County Supervisor.
Even as attention turns to national elections, Cal Poly Democrats and Republicans are focusing on local elections.
As the March 3 primary approaches, the Cal Poly Democrats club is working to help elect Beraud, who is challenging current County Supervisor Debbie Arnold for her seat, according to the club’s co-president Elizabeth Marshall.
“We try and keep it local because that’s where we can make the most impact,” Marshall said.
In the upcoming primary, voters can cast their ballots for the presidential candidate who they want to see in the general election, Proposition 13, the county supervisor who represents their district and other local measures, according to the the California ballot.
The County Board of Supervisors is a five-member governmental body that creates and implements policies for the county of San Luis Obispo. The board directly governs unincorporated areas of the county and creates laws that apply to the entire county. Each member serves a four-year term, according to the county website.
The District 1, District 3 and District 5 county supervisor seats are all up for election, according to the county website.
District 5 includes Atascadero, California Valley, Creston, Garden Farms, Pozo, Santa Margarita, a portion of the city of San Luis Obispo and residents of yakʔityutyu.
Cal Poly Democrats are working to mobilize yakʔitʸutʸu voters for the county supervisor election, Marshall said.
yakʔitʸutʸu houses 1,633 people, according to University Housing Marketing Coordinator Julia Bluff.
Because yakʔitʸutʸu residents are such a large voting block, if they vote, they “could make or break the election,” Marshall said.
Historically, San Luis Obispo has been a “purple county,” meaning a fairly equal number of Republicans and Democrats vote. Because California typically votes for a Democrat in the presidential election, and San Luis Obispo’s Congressman Salud Carbajal is in a “safe seat” as an incumbent, the Cal Poly Democrats club is focusing even more on the local election, according to Marshall.
To reach out to voters, the club hosted phone banking sessions Monday through Thursday to support Beraud, and on the weekends, they walked around the district knocking on doors to persuade residents. Club members also hosted meet-and-greets with Beraud in their homes to introduce her to student voters, Marshall said.
“We’re really just trying to get our club members engaged in this race,” she said.
Unless a student is passionate about voting in their hometown, they should vote in local elections to advocate for student needs, Marshall said.
“People that live here that aren’t students tend to be older, retired people from The Bay or Los Angeles, and they aren’t really making decisions in the best interest of students,” Marshall said. “Even if you as a student are only going to be here one more year, I like to tell people to think of it as you’re voting for a future student that’s going to be here and in their best interest.”
The Cal Poly College Republicans club also encourages students to vote in local elections, according to Club President Indigo Dumhart.
“The smaller local elections are more important, because it’s a very mixed county in [San Luis Obispo],” Dumhart said. “Having the more rural areas, they tend to trend more Republican, while the city and the campus here tends to be more Democrat, so to work with that balance in trying to win those elections is definitely our biggest priority.”
The club endorsed Debbie Arnold for county supervisor, and about two club members volunteered for her campaign, according to Dumhart.
The club also helps freshmen decide where to register to vote. Unless the student feels strongly about the issues in their hometown, the club encourages them to vote locally, Dumhart said.
“I also see the value of switching to [register to vote] here because you’re immersed in the politics in [San Luis Obispo],” Dumhart said. “You’re spending your time as a student about nine months in the year in San Luis Obispo. I think it’s a lot easier to see all the candidates and their politics.”
However, not all students agree, and agricultural systems management junior Logan Miller is one of those students. Student voters, as temporary residents, may not understand how policies their candidate might vote for impact the area, he said.
“I think they should register where they plan on living for the rest of their life,” the Cal Poly College Republicans club member said. “If you’re just going to live here for a little while, why are you going to completely change this area from what it was that could’ve been functional, could’ve been not functional, into what you think it should be?”
Miller votes in his hometown, Prineville, Oregon, but works locally as a precinct walker for Debbie Arnold’s campaign.
Portland is more densely populated than rural areas of the state, so in Oregon, candidates that represent city needs are voted into office, and rural voters like Miller and his family are left in the dust, he said.
San Luis Obispo County is similar in that regard, he said, because the city is densely populated and the rural areas of the county are not as populated. At large, students do not understand how policies could affect people who live in rural areas, he said.
“I think that if you’re going to be voting in an area you really need to know … what your vote does, regardless of what side you vote for,” Miller said. “You should know what’s going to happen, who’s going to be affected by it, what those [impacts] are to the locals. Same reason I vote back home.”
Miller said he believes Cal Poly should make student issues a priority, but the county should prioritize the issues of permanent residents.
Other students, however, support the idea of voting locally. Communication studies sophomore Lauren Buckley was among the students who jumped into local politics this election cycle.
Last summer, Buckley interned for a civil rights lobbyist in Springfield, Illinois. This fall, she started working as the assistant campaign manager for Beraud.
“I wanted to … get involved in my own community rather than be halfway across the country,” Buckley said.
Buckley said she prefers working on a local campaign because she can immediately see the impact of her candidate’s policies.
“Policy takes months, even years to pass at a national level in Congress,” Buckley said. “But, for example, the styrofoam ban was just passed in our county – that immediately affects us.”
Finding and understanding information about candidates and policies can sometimes discourage students from voting, according to Buckley.
“Being politically involved almost beckons you to be absolutely politically involved all at once, so if you don’t know everything, you feel lost,” Buckley said.
In a local election, however, information about candidates and policies are directly available to voters. Students can go to meet-and-greets with candidates to ask them questions about their policies, and they can talk with the city or county clerk about how proposed policies could impact the community and their lives.
“We live here for four years,” Buckley said. “The area around you absolutely changes your life. I don’t think anyone will ever forget their college experience when they go, so why not try to make that a better place, and leave a positive mark on where you stayed for four years?”