The map shows the city outline with SLO cut off. Credit: David Yun / City of SLO

With the upcoming elections, it’s important to remember that students who live on campus are not eligible to vote in the municipal elections — due to city jurisdiction ending at the entrance to campus on Grand Ave. 

The municipal election is the local city election where two council member seats as well as the mayor seat are up for reelection. 

“Cal Poly is part of the unincorporated area of the county and is represented by the County Board of Supervisors,” City Manager Derek Johnson said in an email to Mustang News.  

Johnson told Mustang News that plenty of off-campus students do vote in local elections, and he encourages everyone, not just students, to vote. 

While off-campus students may vote for the mayor or city council, on-campus residents are able to vote in the San Luis Obispo County elections, state elections and general elections, according to County Clerk-Recorder Elaina Cano.

“If students wanted to vote here in the county of San Luis Obispo, they would have to be registered to vote here,” Cano told Mustang News. “So if they want to remain voters in their local home town, then their ballot is going to get sent to that address, and it won’t be sent to Cal Poly’s address.”

Students, on and off-campus, are a major part of the San Luis Obispo community, however, in years past before Cal Poly extended its on-campus housing to accommodate 8,462 as of Oct. 3 of this year, the issue of them voting was not a controversial issue, according to political science professor Michael Latner.

As of Sept. 9, there were 28,716 registered voters in San Luis Obispo city, according to the secretary of state report on registration. On-campus residents would make up 26.8% of that number which is almost a third of registered voters. 

“There are moral and ethical reasons to argue that students should get a vote such as living or working in a city,” Latner said.

The argument against on-campus students voting in local elections is due to the fact that they are considered “part-time citizens,” as most only live in San Luis Obispo during the school year and move away post-graduation,  according to Latner. 

Currently, Cal Poly is transitioning to a two-year housing requirement, resulting in fewer students being eligible to vote in local elections.

According to university spokesperson Matt Lazier, students who are registered to vote here can vote in county elections for positions such as county sheriff or district attorney. 

“This is similar to what a student would experience if they lived off campus in a community other than San Luis Obispo. Or, more broadly, it would be the same experience for anyone who works in the city of San Luis Obispo but lives in a different community,” Lazier told Mustang News.

Regardless of where students live, the university encourages everyone to vote, according to Lazier. An election guide is housed on Cal Poly’s Dean of Students website — providing dates and information on the upcoming election, as well as guidance for how faculty can hold class discussions and teach about elections. 

Voter turnout is the lowest among college-aged individuals, according to the U.S Census Bureau. Latner believes that the political demographic of San Luis Obispo would not change if on-campus residents voted, however, he predicts that we would see more concern about housing and residency regulations on the ballots if on-campus students could vote in city elections. 

Although some Cal Poly students cannot vote in local elections, there are other ways to get involved and vote at the state or county level. 

Olivia Momberg is the president of the Students for Civic Engagement Club on campus, whose mission is to inspire students to become civically engaged and get them registered to vote. 

Momberg expressed frustration with her peers when it came to voting.

“A lot of students are in this weird in-between stage where they either want to be involved here politically or be involved in their hometown,” Momberg said.

Momberg is an out-of-state student and understands the difficulty that comes with transferring residency and changing voter registration status.

“I think it’s important that I transferred my residence here because I know I want to stay in this area long term,” Momberg said.

Momberg said she believes that students should vote in the community where they feel more involved, even if it may not be where they go to college. 

Getting students to register to vote is something the Cal Poly administration does well, according to Latner.

“It takes about two minutes to register to vote in California — [faculty] could just take a tiny portion of class time dedicated to registering students,” Latner said.

However, he said getting people — especially college students — actually voting is a whole other issue. 

Starting conversations around what’s on the ballots is one way to get more people engaged, according to Latner and Cal Matters.

Momberg also believes there are other ways to be civically involved beyond just voting — whether it be starting conversations around local issues, volunteering for groups you’re passionate about or even just picking up a piece of trash.

“I’m not just gonna sit here and think about these things, but not do anything,” Momberg said. 

While these may be examples of how to get involved, Momberg believes voting is how we enact real change. 

“I just think it’s really important to be registered to vote and to actually vote no matter where that is. If you want to vote in your hometown, there are ways to get that ballot here and for you to vote,” Momberg told Mustang News.

The upcoming midterm or general election is an opportunity for both on and off-campus students to get involved and vote. 

This election happens two years after the presidential election and decides who will represent your state in the U.S House of Representatives as well as congress. It also determines which political party will hold the majority in congress, according to the website.

While voter turnout was at an all-time high in the last midterm election in 2018, midterm elections historically have lower turnout than presidential elections, according to the U.S Census Bureau. 

Latner believes that when there are higher-risk issues on the ballot, more people come out to vote. 

Most people, especially in California, don’t live in competitive congressional districts where high stake issues are consistently up for debate. The competition in these districts is often what drives these elections and when competition is low, voter turnout, especially in midterm years tends to be low, according to Latner.

“When the president’s at the top of the ticket, the stakes are higher, and that’s going to draw more people to the polls,” Latner said.