Driven by a passion for increasing voter turnout among his fellow students, junior Brian McInnis has accomplished a first for Yolo County elections and for the University of California, Davis.
Yolo County will operate a polling station on campus that will be open for voting -- for any of the county's registered voters -- over five days including election day Nov. 2.
Amid an increased interest in youth voting and national campaigns to encourage voter registration among university and college students, the convenience of students being able to vote in a centralized campus location over several days may represent an important innovation in election practices.
County voters have long been able to cast their ballot at the clerk-recorder's office in Woodland in the weeks leading up to an election. And in the past, there have been two precinct polling stations on the campus on election days.
But now, for the first time, the county will open a remote location for early voting. The polling station, to be set up in the high-traffic Memorial Union student center, will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 27 to 29 and Nov. 1 and 2.
McInnis, director of external affairs for the Associated Students of UC Davis, wants to see more students vote. "Why not bring the polling place to them?" he said.
An economics major from San Anselmo in Marin County, he approached Yolo County Clerk-Recorder Freddie Oakley with the idea in March. They began talking about it in earnest in September and have worked together to iron out the logistics.
"This is an exciting undertaking," Oakley said. "We're very grateful to the ASUCD for cooperating to make this happen."
The polling station, to be located in the old post office on the Memorial Union's first floor, will include about five voting booths and will have available the ballots for all county precincts.
Two seasoned election workers from the county and two volunteers will staff the station. Using computers and a database, they'll be able to ensure voters get the correct ballot and don't vote more than once.
What's motivated McInnis to make all this happen? "We care so much about getting students enfranchised," he said. "If we get students to start voting now, they're more likely to vote in future elections."
In his external affairs position, McInnis represents UC Davis undergraduates to the University of California Students Association. In August, that body elected him to a one-year term as chair of the legislative affairs committee and in that role he's spoken often with state lawmakers.
"What they say is, 'Students don't vote,'" McInnis said.
Early voting was offered at UC Santa Barbara once in the 1990s, but, after controversy erupted, the county decided against continuing the practice. Bob Smith, elections division manager for Santa Barbara County, said conservatives viewed the early voting on campus as an attempt to increase the Democratic vote. "It became a political football," he said.
Oakley said county clerks are often concerned about poor voter turnout in campus communities. Students, who are highly mobile, can find it confusing to re-register and find their new precinct when they move so often, McInnis said.
While students have the option of voting where their permanent home is, he encourages them to become involved in the community where they are living during their studies. "This is where you live, and you're supposed to vote where you live," he said.
No novice to the workings of elections, McInnis has worked on behalf of ballot measures and candidates for elected office. He's walked precincts, worked with databases to mine votes, made calls to potential voters as part of phone banks and helped pass resolutions.
After developing a database using county voting histories and other information, McInnis has been able to notify students of their precinct locations and provided maps. A similar effort by McInnis and other students before the March primary increased the UC Davis student vote in Yolo County from 385 in the 2002 primary to about 2,100 this year.
McInnis, somewhat tired from weeks of walking the precincts and registering voters, is now in the process of hiring 12 students to work in his office. One of their first tasks will be making telephone calls to encourage students to vote.
Through all these efforts, he hopes to increase the voter turnout among UC Davis students from 3,940 in the last presidential election to more than 10,000 this election.
On track to graduate with a double major in four years, McInnis is eyeing law school and a career as a high school teacher.
"When I came out of high school, I didn't feel like I had an education on local government or state government," he said. "I want students to walk away with a sense of civic responsibility."
Julia Ann Easley, General news (emphasis: business, K-12 outreach, education, law, government and student affairs), 530-752-8248, email@example.com
Brian McInnis, ASUCD External Affairs, (415) 717-6927, firstname.lastname@example.org
Freddie Oakley, Yolo Elections Office, (530) 666-8133, email@example.com