Berkeley has a long and storied history of political activism. From the Free Speech Movement and anti-war movement of the ‘60s to the turbulent protests over the last 20 months, UC Berkeley students consistently stand at the forefront of our national political debate. Despite this, when it comes to actual political power and decision-making, there’s one place UC Berkeley students need to be just as engaged – at the polls. But there’s evidence to suggest we might not be. For example, in the 2014 midterm elections, about 20 percent of eligible 18- to 29-year-olds voted. Fewer than 50 percent of youth voted in the 2016 elections, which was the lowest voter turnout of any age demographic.
With these trends in mind and mere weeks away from the Nov. 6 election, it’s essential to discuss not only that eligible students should vote, but also the many reasons for why they should. From the leaders we elect who determine our collective action on national issues such as climate change to the power students could have on local policy impacting areas including the environment and health care, there are many reasons for students to make their voices heard Nov. 6th. Here, we present three.
First, students must show up to vote to ensure the inclusion of science in policymaking. As graduate students in STEM fields and members of the Science Policy Group at UC Berkeley, we view voting not only as an act of civic engagement but also one of scientific imperative. Yet, about 15 percent of students in STEM fields voted in 2014. STEM-centric issues of widespread consequence, ranging from data security to climate change to water management, are center stage at all levels of policymaking. Many UC Berkeley students study these topics, and even more of us will enter career paths that are intimately linked to them.
For STEM students, using the scientific method to drive our understanding of these and other issues is not enough; voting on who creates our public policy to address them should also be an important part of our work. Electing public leaders who value scientific input and consensus and commit to including perspectives of empirically derived conclusions in the policymaking process must be a priority. All UC Berkeley students can support evidence-based policymaking simply by showing up to vote for candidates who align themselves with these values. To promote this effort among STEM students, we encourage you to join the Science Policy Group’s #STEMvotes social media campaign.
Second, students can have a tremendous influence on STEM-related local policy matters. This election, Berkeley residents are voting on statewide and city ballot measures related to water (Proposition 3), energy (Proposition 6) and health care (Propositions 4, 8 and 11). Many of these are bond measures, which will decide if, where and how we should spend limited public resources. Our Berkeley City Council members also play a role in these policy areas, and half of these seats are up for election this year. We’re voting for a new governor to oversee California’s approximate $201 billion budget and a state superintendent of public instruction to oversee California’s public schools, who will also serve as an ex officio UC regent alongside the governor. These issues and races up and down the ballot will impact each of us, whether or not students vote.
Third, students’ votes can be the deciding votes in close elections. Despite popular opinion, close elections happen, and they happen everywhere. In June of this year, Alameda County’s Ballot Measure A missed the two-thirds vote threshold necessary to pass a tax increase measure by about 1500 votes, fewer than 0.2% of registered voters in the County. 1500 is fewer than 4% of Berkeley’s total Fall 2018 enrollment. Another example is in 2016, when Cheryl Davila was elected to Berkeley City Council by 168 votes – a number representing fewer than 25% of students living in the new Blackwell residence hall. And last year, in the election for Virginia’s 94th House of Delegates seat (comparable to a seat in the California State Assembly), the candidates tied with 11,608 votes each; the winner was decided by a literal random draw out of a bowl. If one more person had voted, they would have determined the winner. Make no mistake – your vote matters. As a collective, college students represent 9.2% of the total eligible voting population in California. We have the power to influence election outcomes – but only if we turn out to vote.
Our democratic elections are the living reality of government by and for the people. This only works when we all collectively participate. So, make your voice heard and vote in the November 6th election. If you missed the deadline to register, conditional voting in person at your county elections office provides an option to still vote this election. If you’re already registered, locate your polling place, or register to vote by mail by October 30th, which is an easy way to avoid a trip to your polling place between classes on election day. Make a plan with your friends to get informed on the ballot measures and candidates. Lastly, help Get Out the Vote! #STEMvotes