Originally published February 15, 2012 at 10:50 a.m., updated February 15, 2012 at 2:44 p.m.
Guests: Arshya Shafarian and Dean Searcy
UC San Diego students and founders of SOVAC
Two UC San Diego political science majors introduced a way to increase voter registration and student participation on campus.
Arshya Sharifian and Dean Searcy are the founders of Student Organized Voter Access Committee, or SOVAC, which is a student organization that tries to make voter registration easy and accessible for all UCSD students.
According to Searcy, the group has two missions: to provide access to voter registration and to create turnout for the June primary and the 2012 presidential elections.
Sharifian said the organization’s job is to provide students access to information so they can actively seek change. He also said students need to be aware of the barriers limiting their voter registration.
“We felt very strongly that if students ever wanted to go out and advocate on behalf of issues that they care very very deeply about, that is very difficult to do so when they don’t participate or don’t have the information to participate in our democratic process,” he said.
SOVAC is also trying to get information to students about the laws affecting their rights. Sharifian said the organization was started because he saw students fighting for issues on campus, but they were not registered to vote.
“Politicians speak one language – votes, so if students don’t vote, politicians won’t listen,” Sharifian said.
Last year, only 6 percent of UCSD students were registered to vote, the lowest percentage in the UC system. So far SOVAC has registered 1,700 students, more students than Associated Students, the school’s student government, registered all of last year. SOVAC was chartered by the UCSD Associated Students to be its institutional voter registration arm.
Additionally, SOVAC is working with UCSD’s six colleges in order to have fixed polling sites at each college on campus.
The group was able to reach a large number of students in the fall when they set up a voter registration table while students were moving into the residence halls. Searcy said the process to register took less than three minutes. He also said incoming students have more enthusiasm to register and be a part of the campus.
According to Searcy, it is essential to register students at an early age.
“That tender age between 17 to 18 is really when it’s necessary to target the students to make them first time voters because it’s proven first-time voters become lifetime voters,” he said.
The group’s founders said they want to ensure students vote in consistent numbers in order to eliminate the perception of instability in the youth. They also plan on conducting information workshops at high schools in order to “plant the seeds of democracy.”