After a year-long attempt to pass the Student Voting Rights Act, which could register over 2.5 million students, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB-2455 into law on Sept. 21.

California has at least 6.5 million eligible, unregistered voters, and the law intends to bolster the state’s low, young adult voter turnout by ordering the California State Universities (CSUs) and California Community Colleges (CCCs) to offer an opportunity for students to register to vote while using online class registration. It also encourages –– though does not require –– the University of California to create a similar structure.

The UC system isn’t required to participate in the law because it’s governed by the UC regents which operates with a greater degree of autonomy from the state than other entities like the CSU Board of Trustees and CCCs.

Illustration by Kelly Leung.
Illustration by Kelly Leung.

The state legislature cannot legally compel the UC to take any action as they can do with both the CSU and community college system.

“Though the state legislature cannot technically mandate the UC to do anything, as a matter of practice anytime the legislature directs the UC to take an action on a bill, the UC interprets this as a mandate and follows through with the action,” said Student Regent-designate Paul Monge.

Since the UC receives funding from the state, it is typically advantageous for the regents to comply with the state’s requests and encouragements, whether they are mandated or not.

“We were pretty excited because it was an initiative developed by students… and it shows that any person can be part of our democratic process… We are respected as a constituency,” Monge said.

Previously, the California secretary of state was required to provide voter registration forms to all college campuses, but students had to register independently. According to the legislation, by July 1, 2018 the CSUs, CCCs and possibly the UCs will have a complete system of voter registration in place with the California Secretary of State’s office.

The new measure will also come at no cost to the universities as the law requires the state of California to reimburse any costs. The amount, however, is currently unknown.

The Student Voting Rights Act also follows a larger effort to increase voting participation in California. Last year Gov. Jerry Brown signed the new Motor Voter Rights Act, which streamlined the process, automatically registering people to vote through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), unless they opt out.

Proponents of the AB-2455 hope it will increase participation among college students who have shown drastically lower trends of voter participation. Eligible voters ages 18 to 24 made up about 4 percent of those who voted, despite making 14.5 percent of the states general population, according to a UC Davis study.

“Under the Student Voting Act, students would be able to register and update their voter registration records every new term that they register for classes,” Monge said in an email. “This is important considering how often students move and change address[es]. If they don’t regularly update their voting records, they could effectively be kept off of the voter roles.”

AB-2455 originally faced some pushback out of fear that students who were not qualified to vote, such as undocumented students, could inadvertently be jeopardized in an automatic registration system. Former Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Sauli Colio brought this concern to the UCSC Student Union Assembly meeting when the group first voted on endorsing a draft of the act.

“Information sharing is something that raises a lot of concerns for undocumented students — or even myself as a resident,” Colio said to City on a Hill Press (CHP) in May.

This is a change from the original draft of the law, as AB-2455 initially intended to register all students without an exemption option. Now, anyone who does not want to be registered can actively decline and will also not be registered to vote if their records reflect that they are ineligible. If students do not have a party preference listed through the DMV, they’re automatically registered as having no party preference.

“Voter registration as a practice has been one of the contributing factors for why young people are not voting at the rates that they should be,” Monge said to CHP in May. “So we wanted to attack that segment of it and address it by the way we approach voter registration as it applies to young people.”