Garrett Hart, chair and professor in the Department of Cinema and Television Acts at California State University’s College of Communications, started growing concerned with American politics in the wake of the controversial 2016 election.
As the fall 2020 semester began, coinciding with the countdown of another explosive election season, Hart and his students joined the other 23 CSU and 9 University of California campuses in returning to school via digital learning. Hart looked at his class of students, mostly 18-24 year olds –the most underrepresented voting group in California – when the desire struck him to do something more to educate his students on voting.
In Sept. 2018, Orange County had 1,499,564 registered voters, but only 13.03% of the total registered voters were aged 17.5-25, meaning almost 100,000 young adults aged 18-24 weren’t registered to vote in Orange County when compared to Census data for 2018. The number of registered voters in the 17.5-25 range has been reported as being 13.73% of 1,690,959 total registered voters as of Sept. 2020. (The 17.5 year olds counted in these numbers were/are going to be 18 by the election date)
“I thought to myself, how can I have a bigger impact?” Hart said.
This inspired him to begin the initiative #MyVoteMyVoice, a call for professors to take a more proactive role in encouraging students to vote. Staff and students who have gotten involved use this hashtag on social media to promote their cause. The initiative also urges professors to dedicate class time to teach students the significance of voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 election.
“I feel like it’s my obligation as an educator to teach [my students] that part of living in a democratic society is your duty to vote. I said to my students, ‘look, if you’re qualified to vote, you have to vote, it’s that simple,’” Hart said. “I try to convince my students they need to pick up a newspaper, turn on a laptop. My goal is to go way beyond Fullerton. I think this is the most important election of our lifetimes.”
Hart is certainly not alone in this fight. He joins the hoards of others – from student leaders here at Orange Coast College and across the state, to the California Secretary of State office to other professors – pushing to register student voters and encouraging them to practice their right to vote in the general election, using various strategies to achieve these goals.
All colleges in California have a legal obligation to inform students of their voting rights and other voting related information. In Nov. 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill No. 963, known as the Student Civic and Voter Empowerment Act. This act requires postsecondary education institutions in California to provide election information and dates via email, such as locations and times for early voting. This act also requires postsecondary institutions to hold three outreach events prior to an election, and for schools to designate one person to be a Civic and Voter Empowerment Coordinator, who reports to the Secretary of State.
OCC’s Civic and Voter Empowerment Coordinator is Michael Morvice, director of Student Life and Leadership Development. The Student Life and Leadership Development office is available to any students who may have questions, or aren’t sure where to get more information regarding the election.
“Part of a developing plan is putting together a committee to create a plan, and challenging them to ask what we need to keep students informed,” Morvice said. ”Do your best to get informed. If you’re not sure, ask. Express your will through voting. Everyone has a chance to lead in that moment.”
The OCC Advocacy Committee is a branch of student government that researches and advocates for local, state and federal government legislation and represents student issues in those matters. Members of this committee are some of the many student leaders working alongside state and campus representatives to get more students involved in voting this year. According to the California Students Vote Project, run by the Secretary of State office, student leaders engaging their peers have been some of the most successful at reaching fellow students. The California Students Vote Project also suggested schools take advantage of outreach programs and to explore creative ways to get in contact with students.
As of now, there are no upcoming election-related events on the calendar for OCC students, but examples of other events other campuses are hosting are CSUF’s live Instagram sessions, civic discussions and webinars hosted by alumni. You can check the ASOCC and Student Clubs and Organization calendar and the ASCOO Instagram page for upcoming election events for OCC students.
Connor Cuomo, president of the Research Journal Club and former member of the Advocacy Committee, points out with all the emails students normally receive, notices of election dates and information may go unnoticed, and the additional struggles of reaching out to students with the virtual learning environment .
“It’s so hard to do, getting people to do anything right now,” Cuomo said. “Running a good event is important.”
For students on voting this year, Cuomo recommends students ask key questions.
“What’s the voting history of the person I’m voting for? How do I look up what’s in a bill that person supported?” Cuomo said. “Everything is so political, it’s always about personalities and tribes. Think about policy.”
Back at CSUF, a normal busy day is ending for staff and students alike, but Hart is still hard at work contacting additional college programs across California and beyond to sign up for his initiative, passionate and optimistic in his mission.
“By the time this day is over, I’ll have 17 or 18 programs signed up – and I’ll do that every day this week,” he said.
Hart saved the best piece of advice, his own personal favorite, for last.
“Vote or shut the f*** up.”