The Office of Student Legislative Affairs has just finished an intensive campaign to increase voter turnout among Bellevue College students. The campaign began with student volunteers assessing the level of voter registration among students and signing students up right here on campus. OSLA successfully registered 891 students in less than four weeks with the help of these volunteers. The campaign has also helped facilitate student voting by providing a ballot drop-box in the Student Programs office, and most recently, with a volunteer-conducted phone-a-thon directed at registered voters who are students at BC. “We started this before fall quarter even took off,” said Kristin Velez, legislative director of OSLA
The phone-a-thon was done using a database of some 7000 BC students who are registered voters. The OSLA received permission from the Secretary of State to use this database and call students. The OSLA used a calling system called “Call-fire,” which is essentially a computer system that runs through the database and does the dialing for the volunteer. Said Velez, “So now we’re actually calling all the students, asking, ‘Have you received your ballot? Do you know where to put it? Do you know how to access more information, like non-partisan information such as the voter’s pamphlet?’”
Ensuring that students actually send their ballots in was a major focus of the campaign. “Now here in OSLA we have an official ballot drop-box, located right here in Student Programs…we have only one person who can open [it] and put it in a huge envelope and then send it to the elections office,” commented Thuy Ngoc Pham, organizing director of OSLA. Postage was provided by OSLA’s budget for these ballots, so students who did not purchase their own would still be able to mail in their vote. Providing information to students and educating them on ballot measures was also a large focus for OSLA. “The biggest reason [that student’s don’t vote] is the attitude that student’s have to politics. Many of them say, ‘My vote doesn’t count,’…or they are disappointed with the kind of policies they are receiving right now, tuition and fees are too high and maybe some of them are just lazy,” commented Pham.
“Honestly, I think there’s this common misconception that it’s apathy. I think it’s more of the fact that even if people care about an issue, they don’t know how to do it, how to be involved,” offered Velez, adding, “If you look at the younger demographic, I mean, you’re just eligible to vote…this isn’t something that you necessarily have the knowledge for, so people need to be receiving this information.”
The OSLA is not alone in its endeavor: The Washington Association of Students has been conducting these same kinds of operations at college campuses all throughout the state. All three of the University of Washington campuses, Washington State University, Western Washington University and Eastern Washington University are just a few of the institutions that have taken an active role in getting their student body to vote. Today is Election Day, so soon it will be apparent just how much of an impact these and similar measures have made in Washington.