Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

Register-to-vote effort encourages engaged citizens

Students talk with a professor and register to vote in Hunsaker Plaza.
A group of U of R students and faculty members encourage passersby to register to vote. (Photo by William Vasta)

A professor of race and ethnic studies invested in teaching civic engagement. A first-year student receiving scholarship money for setting up voting registration booths. The director of Community Service Learning. An Ethiopian citizen who wants to make sure Americans don’t take their rights for granted. These are a few of the U of R constituents who have formed a coalition to help register and inform local voters leading up to the November 6 election.

Members had been mobilizing independently to organize students, establish voter registration tables, or give talks on election-related issues, said Professor Jennifer Tilton, “so we decided that collaborating across campus institutions would be more effective.”

About 25 members of the consolidated group are setting up voter registration tables on campus with the goal of removing barriers to voting—making sure students have the information needed to register and vote; providing pamphlets and absentee ballots; and pointing them to resources to learn more about issues they care about.

“When students identify the issues they care about, we can help them understand how those issues are impacted by political decisions on a local, state, and federal level,” says Tilton. “And then they understand the complexity of who has the power to make the decisions on these issues.”

The effort has students from Tilton’s class and student governing body Associated Students of the University of Redlands (ASUR) coordinating volunteers to staff the tables. Community Service Learning has a student worker assigned to the election effort, and is supplying signage, pamphlets, voter registration forms, and tables. Steve Wuhs, professor of political science and assistant provost for internationalization, is also participating. Thanks to these efforts, voting registration booths make an appearance two to three times weekly at University events, residence halls, and other high-traffic areas on campus.

Jaynee Ronquilloanay ’22 had only been on campus a month when she set up one voter registration table. She is also voting for the first time in November. Among the issues that matter to her? “Gun control, reproductive rights, civil rights.” Registering people to vote has helped her realize that change is possible, “even just by holding conversations.” She adds, “There’s power in numbers. Your concerns are validated when people come together.”

Ethiopian national Tinbite Legesse ’19 is a volunteer who works with Tilton. She says being a global student makes her even more passionate about voting. “I love the fact that in America your vote means something. Civic engagement is such an important thing when you have the access to it.”

Tilton, who also developed Read, Empower, Attain, Create, Hope (REACH), a community-service learning project that brings U of R students to work with incarcerated youth in juvenile hall, says her students are passionately committed to making the world a better place. “But I've noticed over the years that they don't know how that translates into civic engagement in terms of our politics. And they often feel really alienated from politics even if they're passionate about changing the world that they live in.”

According to Tufts University’s National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), University of Redlands voter participation patterns are similar to those of other colleges, with significant declines in voter participation in midterm elections. While 56.4 percent of eligible U of R students voted in the 2016 election, only 17.8 percent of students voted in the 2014 midterm election. This effort to build more consistent outreach aims to increase both student voter registration and voter turnout in all elections whether students are registered locally, in their hometowns in California, or other states.

Engaging students in the process of voting, says Tony Mueller, director of Community Service Learning, is tantamount to giving them a voice.  “That’s why we’re involved.” He added, “If we don’t raise the numbers of voters in this election, it’s not from lack of trying.”

The group’s work, Tilton says, goes hand in hand with the University’s mission to educate hearts and minds. “We bring our students into the community so they to learn how to be engaged citizens that help their communities. And voting is a huge part of that education.”