Nov. 8 marks an important day not just for the nation, but for the city of San Luis Obispo. On the second Tuesday of November — tandem with the national election — registered San Luis Obispo voters will be able to elect the mayor and two new City Council members.
As it turns out, students make up a larger portion of these voters than most people realize.
According to County Clerk Recorder Tommy Gong, almost a quarter of registered voters are student-aged voters.
Graphic by Brendan Matsuyama
San Luis Obispo has 27,767 registered voters, 6,315 of which are between the ages of 18 and 24 – making up almost 23 percent of registered voters. Given that both mayoral and city council candidates are elected by majority vote, students have an incredible amount of impact when it comes to local elections. If students directed their votes toward one candidate, they could possibly decide the outcome of an election.
Despite the amount of influence students have, there are candidates who are elected and ordinances that are passed that students feel do not have their best interest in mind. Most notable is the controversial Rental Inspection Housing Program that was met with student and community opposition.
But according to Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) President Jana Colombini, students should weigh in on city issues beyond the rental inspection program.
“Unless you’re not going to be here next year, what you’re voting on in November will affect you next year,” Colombini said. “Why not make this community better for future Cal Poly students?”
Cal Poly currently has around 21,000 students, according to Cal Poly’s projected 2016 numbers. If those students registered to vote in San Luis Obispo, that number alone would almost surpass the 21,452 non-18-to-24 voters in the city.
Colombini said Cal Poly students have a tremendous impact on local elections and should vote.
“If we all get to get together and we all vote we can elect whoever we want in those positions,” Colombini said. “We can elect people who will make our experience in San Luis Obispo better.”
To make this happen, ASI has been promoting the Flex Your Right voter registration campaign that encourages students to register on their portal through the online registration platform TurboVote.
“It’s a very easy way to register to vote,” Colombini said. “It literally takes five minutes. And I know that’s a little pitch line, but it actually takes five minutes.”
TurboVote also shows how many students are registering to get an idea of how significant students’ votes are.
“We can take that number to local politicians and candidates and say ‘Look at all the students we have registered. We are a big sway in the outcome, so please make sure you’re reaching out to students and making your campaign and your goals align with the goals of Cal Poly students,” Colombini said.
Mayoral candidate Heidi Harmon hopes the current climate of the national election will inspire students to vote locally as well.
“I helped lead the local Sanders campaign here and that got a lot of new people,” Harmon said. “We had been hearing from them how frustrated they were about the process and how a lot of people had been feeling pretty down about Bernie not making it to the general. I wanted to remind those people that there is still a lot of work to do and that they hopefully won’t give up and not turn out.”
Colombini shares Harmon’s hopes that students find inspiration from the national election.
“I would hope that, if anything, it would light the fire and make students want to go to the polls and want to submit their ballots just to make sure they can influence this community into creating a better place for them to live and be a student in,” Colombini said.
Combating voter apathy is difficult, especially when dealing with 18-24-year-old voters who typically have low voter registration rates nationally compared to other age demographics’ — 58.5 percent compared to the other demographics’ 66 and higher percentages, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Graphic by Brendan Matsuyama
But for San Luis Obispo students, sometimes the issue isn’t apathy.
According to a Mustang News survey, some Cal Poly students hadn’t registered in San Luis Obispo because they are registered to vote elsewhere.
Others didn’t feel it was worth voting.
“I don’t feel like I’m educated on who is running and I also feel weird voting for things in SLO when I only live here part of the year,” one respondent said.
However, Colombini implored students to vote if they have any issues with current policy.
“If students are fed up with what’s going on in the community, if they don’t like a lot of these ordinances or a lot of these different policies that are being passed that are specifically either anti-student or affect their day-to-day lives, go to the polling station,” Colombini said. “If you’re not registered and you’re not voting, then don’t complain about what’s happening in San Luis Obispo.”
The final day to register is Oct. 24. Students can register through TurboVote at www.calpoly.turbovote.org.