As the San Luis Obispo County local elections draw near, students are evaluating their options — and according to recent poll data collected by Mustang News, issues such as affordable housing, police funding and homelessness are at the top of many lists.

Of a randomly selected sample group of 147 Cal Poly students polled for this story, these three issues, along with climate change and social justice, were the five most commonly discussed topics in reference to local politics.

These topics are mirrored on a national scale. When asked about national politics, polled students felt that climate change, racial justice, COVID-19 and healthcare were the most important to consider.

The challenge facing San Luis Obispo is twofold — voting for representatives and voting for propositions — according to San Luis Obispo voter and Cal Poly English junior Renae Garcia-Pak.

“When voting for representatives, I find issues related to health care, social justice, climate change, gun violence and housing the most important,” Garcia-Pak said. These topics are important to her because she believes they are a direct factor in people’s lives.

On the subject of representatives, Garcia-Pak said she was particularly interested in candidates Dawn Addis and John Laird.

Both are proponents of protecting our environment, both are focused on housing needs and both are looking to improve health care,” Garcia-Pak said. “Their education and endorsements are also impressive.”

One of the city positions up for grabs this year is the mayoral seat. Among those with a preference, Cal Poly students seem to be leaning towards Heidi Harmon as the preferred mayoral candidate, with 49% of responses in her favor. This lead could change, however, as 42% consider themselves undecided on the matter.

The second challenge is navigating the many propositions, Garcia-Pak said. 

“When voting on propositions, I feel that it is better to look at how they will affect everyone, as well as who will be affected the most, and I believe that it is most important to vote for changes that will better society as a whole,” she said.

Among polled student responses, Propositions 22, 16 and 17 were the three most frequently discussed.

Proposition 22 is an initiative statute that “exempts app-based transportation and delivery companies from providing employee benefits to certain drivers,” according to the official title and summary of Proposition 22 as found in the California Official Voter Information Guide.

Proposition 16 is a legislative constitutional amendment that “allows diversity as a factor in public employment, education, and contracting decisions,” according to the same source.

Among those speaking in favor of Prop. 16 is co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement Patrisse Cullors, who officially endorsed the campaign for Yes on Prop 16.

Proposition 17 is a legislative constitutional amendment that “restores [the] right to vote after completion of prison term,” according to the California Official Voter Information Guide. This proposition was especially important to Garcia-Pak.

“I believe that keeping people from voting after being thrown in prison is just another way to oppress certain populations, and it is not right,” she said.

On the other side of the argument is Ruth Weiss, Director of Legislative Oversight of the Election Integrity Project in Santa Clarita.

“[Proposition 17] amends California’s Constitution to grant violent criminals the right to vote before completing their sentence including parole,” Weiss said in a statement prepared for the “arguments” section of the Official Voter Information Guide.

85% of poll respondents rated local politics either “extremely important” or “important” on a five-point scale, and 80% considered themselves generally well-informed voters.

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