CINDY DINH ’16 AND PAUL MONGE ’18 DRAFT A BILL THAT WOULD AUTOMATICALLY REGISTER CALIFORNIA COLLEGE STUDENTS
What began as a simple dinner conversation between friends quickly transformed into a determined campaign to empower California’s young voters.
Berkeley Law students Cindy Dinh ’16 and Paul Monge ’18 met six years ago as fellows at UC Berkeley’s Public Policy International Affairs Junior Summer Institute. While catching up over pasta in January, they shared concerns about the state’s waning support of higher education—and started brainstorming ways to give students a bigger voice.
Soon thereafter, they began constructing a bill that would set the stage to automatically register students in California’s public colleges and universities. Now co-authored by Bay Area assemblymembers David Chiu and Rob Bonta, the “Student Voting Act” proposes to register students within the UC, California State University, and California Community Colleges systems when they sign up for classes. Students could opt out of registration if so inclined.
For their efforts, Dinh and Monge received UC Berkeley’s annual Chancellor’s Award for Public Service in the Graduate Student Civic Engagement category. “Voter registration remains a significant barrier to public participation in our state’s democracy, especially among highly mobile young people,” Monge says. “When students move or their information changes, their registration records often aren’t updated—effectively keeping them off the voter rolls.”
Dinh and Monge researched other automatic registration models nationwide and found inspiration in California’s “motor voter” law. Set to be implemented next year, the law will automatically register those who apply for, or renew, their driver’s licenses. The students consulted with Berkeley Law faculty and staff, developed a formal proposal, and drafted their bill’s initial language.
“We’ve been fortunate to have so many supporters offer insight on how automatic voter registration might look if implemented at the schools,” Dinh says. She credits professor Bertrall Ross, Dean of Students Annik Hirshen, registrar Carol Rachwald, and university registrar Walter Wong for “having an open-door policy and graciously talking with us early in the process.”
Dinh and Monge have met with lawmakers in Sacramento and visited other California cities to enlist support. In March, they secured the endorsement of the University of California Student Association, which represents 240,000 students from all 10 UC campuses. The association will couple the effort with its own UCweVOTE campaign, and urge the university’s Board of Regents and President Janet Napolitano to implement automatic voter registration on campuses.
In the November 2014 statewide general election, only 8 percent of eligible Californians aged 18 to 24 cast ballots. That demographic made up just 4 percent of the entire voting electorate, and almost half of that age group’s members were not registered to vote.
“Modernizing and reimagining the way we register voters can meaningfully reduce some existing obstacles that contribute to lower youth turnout,” Monge says. “We care deeply about promoting a democracy that’s more inclusive of young people’s voices.”