ASUCI held its first ever VoteFest, encouraging participation in elections and facilitating student-politician interaction at the Student Center Terrace Stage on Oct. 18.
The event was held three weeks prior to the Nov. 8 midterm elections, when voters will decide which candidates will be seated in Congress as well as various state and local positions. For residents of Orange County, this includes deciding who will serve on the OC Board of Supervisors. Irvine residents can expect to have the option to vote on city council candidates as well as a handful of mayoral candidates.
Irvine mayoral candidate Branda Lin and Irvine City Council candidates Kathleen Treseder, Navid Sadigh and Scott Hansen attended the afternoon event, speaking directly with students and answering questions. Orange County supervisors Katrina Foley and Lisa Bartlett were also present. Foley is also currently running to replace Bartlett, who is term-limited and cannot run again.
Upbeat music played in the background as students gathered around a booth which offered free boba, t-shirts, pop sockets, stickers and voter registration information. ASUCI organizers held iPads which offered students and passersby the convenience of registering to vote digitally.
Fourth year criminology, law and society and urban studies student Hasti Soutehkashan, organizing director in the ASUCI Office of the External Vice President (EVP) and founder of VoteFest, spoke with the New University about the event.
“So, VoteFest is our final push for voter registration, since the voter registration deadline to get mail-in ballots is October 24,” Soutehkashan said. “In [past years], we had a huge voter turnout in the elections, but since then, it’s just like turnout has gone down. UCI plays a major role in the city’s population. And so it’s really important that our students turn out and vote in order to have their voices heard.”
Historically, voter turnout of Americans aged 18 to 24 has been lower than that of older Americans. During the 2020 presidential election, 76% of those aged 65 to 74 cast their votes. Despite the U.S. Census Bureau touting the 2020 election as having “the highest voter turnout of the 21st century,” only 51.4% of those aged 18 to 24 joined their older counterparts in voting for the next U.S. president. In contrast with other relatively high-income countries, the U.S. ranks ninth in voter turnout, with only 62% participating in elections as of August 2022.
“Anything you could really imagine the government is involved with, is what is at stake when you’re voting,” third year political science and business economics student Lauren Melvin said. Melvin is also the ASUCI Senator in the School of Social Sciences and EVP Chief of Staff.
She stressed the importance of participating in this year’s elections by citing a particularly polarizing issue in the U.S. — abortion rights.
“This year voting is super important with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court … we even see cities like San Clemente starting to try [and ban abortions], sanctuary cities trying to outlaw abortions and stuff like that,” Melvin said. “So I think that for this particular midterm election that is a really important driving factor for me personally, reproductive health.”
In May of this year, a bill which would guarantee a woman’s right to abortion in all 50 states — the Women’s Health Protection Act — was passed by the House of Representatives. Eight days after its introduction, the bill was shot down in the Senate with a vote of 49-51.
34 Senate seats and all 435 House seats will be filled based on votes cast this November. California voters also must decide on statewide propositions, including the fate of Proposition 1. If passed, Prop 1 would see the right to abortion and use of contraceptives explicitly protected under the state constitution.
In addition to abortion rights issues, Melvin also mentioned the student housing crisis as another key issue she would like to see addressed by incoming politicians.
“Students have been living in their cars, there’s not any access to basic needs or really any support systems,” Melvin said. “And I would really love to see the next city council, the next mayor, the next people coming into office really trying to support UC Irvine students with their housing.”
Out of ASUCI’s multiple attempts to promote voter registration in the previous weeks, VoteFest saw some of the highest levels of engagement.
“I think, frankly, a large part of it is because of the boba we had and the live music,” Melvin said. “I’m really glad that a lot of candidates came out and got to talk to a lot of students because I think that helps a lot to really help civic engagement. I’ve seen a lot of people registering to vote or at least getting a QR code. Hopefully that translates into actual registration.”
Simon Jeau is a Campus News Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. He can be reached at email@example.com.