Ash Kalra proposes law to put vote centers on college campuses

A new bill from San Jose Assemblyman Ash Kalra would prioritize putting vote centers on college campuses, a push to improve youth voter turnout and eliminate barriers to voting.

Kalra’s Assembly Bill 59 would amend California Voter’s Choice Act to require college campuses with 10,000 or more students be considered for vote centers. The proposed legislation includes CSUs, UCs, community colleges and private universities.

“Access to high-traffic and central vote center locations on college campuses is critical for successful student voter turnout and more can be done to provide students meaningful opportunities to register and get the assistance they need,” Kalra said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to engage our youth — our future leaders — to be active citizens in a democracy.”

Santa Clara County lawmakers are considering sweeping changes under the landmark Voter’s Choice Act, including rolling out all-mail elections in 2020 and replacing precinct polling places with 125 “vote centers” that would be open up to 11 days before Election Day.

If AB 59 is approved by the Legislature, San Jose State University could be one of Silicon Valley’s new vote centers — providing 33,000 students a convenient way to make their voices heard.

“I think it’s awesome,” said sociology professor Scott Myers-Lipton. “This could make a big difference in elections. Anything we can do to encourage our democracy is a good thing.”

Myers-Lipton said nearly 70 percent of SJSU students work while going to school, and bringing a vote center directly to them will make it easier to fulfil their civic duty.

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 made up about 21 percent of the U.S. voting eligible population in 2014, according to Campus Vote Project, but voter turnout sunk to record lows.

In California, only 52 percent of eligible youth were registered to vote in the 2014 general election and a dismal 8 percent actually voted.  In 2016, however, the California Secretary of State observed an increase in online youth voter registrations. It jumped to 1.3 million new online registrations by the end of 2017.

“Having an on campus vote center and satellite elections office will provide young voters with a convenient one-stop-shop where they can register to vote, cast their ballot and deal with a wide variety of issues related to voting while away at college,” said Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Kevin Mullin, the legislation’s co-author.  “AB 59 will provide those students who may be going through the voting experience for the first time a valuable resource that will help them exercise their right to vote.”

Local lawmakers commended Kalra’s proposed legislation, calling it “out-of-the-box.”

“Let’s remove every obstacle possible and engage our youth in the democratic process,” tweeted San Jose Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco.

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