students smiling on a college campus
Story California

Student Voters' Choice: Increasing Access for Civic Engagement

Hazel Kelly

Discover how new vote centers on CSU campuses make voting more accessible and convenient for busy students.

students smiling on a college campus

​College students across California will have greater access to a vital civic duty, thanks to the placement of multi-day voting centers on campuses in participating counties. (Courtesy of Sacramento State) 


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Thousands of students at 11 different CSU campuses will have access to new on-campus voting centers for the first time for the March primary election. Thanks to the Voter's Choice Act, 15 California counties are switching to the more flexible and convenient voting center model, which replaces traditional polling places and extends the voting period.

Election offices will open voting centers throughout each participating county, which include locations such as schools and higher education institutions—both public and private. CSU campuses with March 2020 voting centers include ChicoDominguez Hills, Fresno, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, Pomona,Sacramento, San Francisco and San José (see locations below)

Assembly Bill 59, signed in October 2019, amended the Voter's Choice Act (VCA) to require college campuses with 10,000 or more students be considered for vote centers, which includes CSU and University of California campuses, as well as community colleges and private universities.

Voting centers can be open for either 10 days or 4 days leading up to election day, allowing voters to cast or drop off their mail-in ballots within that extended time period. Additionally, voters may visit any center in their county of residence. 

This is especially helpful for busy working students, so they don't have to rush back to their neighborhood polling places before they close on election day, explains Noel Mora, 2018-19 Associated Students Inc. (ASI) president at Sacramento State University, who was involved in establishing the campus's first vote center during the November 2018 midterm election.​

​​​What can you do at a voting center?

  • Vote in person

  • Drop off a ballot

  • Get a replacement ballot

  • Vote using an accessible ​voting machine

  • Get help and voting material in multiple languages

  • Register to vote (conditionally, if ​​after deadline) or update your voter registration

  • ​Approved by California legislators in 2016, the Voter's Choice Act (VCA) allows counties to decide  when they will transition to the new voting center model. ​

“Having a voting center so close to a hub where students hang out makes all the difference. You're guaranteeing access to the most fundamental civic right for students," says Mora, who is now working on his master's in public policy administration from Sacramento State after earning his bachelor's in government in 2018. 

First in On-Campus Vote Centers​

​In fact, during the June 2018 primary election, Sacramento State was the first four-year university in California to open an on-campus VCA voting center, thanks to support from President Robert Nelsen, the divisions of Student Affairs, Public Affairs and Advocacy, and ASI. And during the November 2018 midterm election, the campus saw impressive voter turnout at their four-day voting center located at Modoc Hall.

“We saw lines of students going out the door," Mora says. “But that was a good problem to have. It was a sign that we were meeting a long-standing need." Sacramento State's center actually accounted for the highest number of same-day voter registration of all voting centers (across the five participating counties) during the 2018 midterm elections, says Mora.

“The atmosphere was celebratory," says Mora, explaining that they had set up a DJ booth on campus, and while students were lining up to cast their ballots, they were offered free pizza, courtesy of the nonprofit Pizza to the Polls. “A lot of people were posting on social media, which made more people want to come out. It was really something special," he says.

For the March 2020 primary election, the Sacramento State voting center will take place at Modoc Hall again. “We are already actively spreading the word across campus to make students aware of this critical democratic resource and encourage them to cast their ballots before election day," says Samantha Elizalde, ASI board member at Sacramento State. “It is so important for students to vote because they represent themselves and their community."

Other CSU campuses are also anticipating great turnout at their new voting centers. At Cal Poly Pomona​ for example, the campus has long had a polling place on election day, but its new voting center at the Bronco Student Center will allow students, faculty, staff and community members to vote early and avoid long lines. 

Register to Vote by Feb. 18!

  • Go to online voter registration to complete an application, or

  • Pick up a paper voter registration application at any Department of Motor Vehicles field office, and many post offices, public libraries, and government offices, or request one from your county elections office.  To receive a voter registration application by mail from the Secretary of State, call the toll-free Voter Hotline at (800) 345-VOTE (8683).

  • Your voter registration must be postmarked or submitted electronically no later than February 18, 2020.

  • If you miss the deadline, you can “conditionally" register at a vote center or county elections office. Visit Same Day Voter Registration for more information.

  • Can't remember if you're registered? You can check the status of your registration on the Secretary of State website.

Engaging Young Voters​

​California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has led dedicated efforts to increase civic engagement, including younger voters who have historically registered and voted at lower rates.

​“The Voter's Choice Act was a success through its first election year, with voters taking advantage of the flexibility that vote centers provide," says Secretary Padilla. “In 2018 the vote center at Sacramento State was one of the most visited polling locations in the state. In 2020, we are excited to have more than 30 vote centers on college campuses throughout the state." 

According to data from the Secretary of State's office, youth voter (age 18 to 24) turnout rates increased 10 percent between 2014 and 2018 within the five first Voter's Choice Act counties. Now with 15 VCA counties and increased civic engagement efforts at universities like the CSU, Padilla expects youth voter turnout to continue in an upward trend.​

The University and College Ballot Bowl is another civic engagement focus of the Secretary of State. The Ballot Bowl creates friendly competition between California institutions to see which school can get the most students to register to vote. Cal Poly San Luis​ Obispo​ ​won the 2018 competition with the highest student voter registrations overall, and Sacramento State was recognized as the CSU campus with the most creative approach to registering students. The 2020 Ballot Bowl competition will begin in August.

Another engagement competition—from the nonpartisan group Civic Nation—is the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. California State University, Northridge received an ALL IN gold seal for achieving a campus student voting rate between 40 and 49 percent in the 2018 election.

Legislation such as AB 963 also focuses on civic engagement at the college level. Passed in October 2019, the Student Civic and Voter Empowerment Act requires CSU and California Community Colleges campuses to provide students with civic and election dates and information and designate an on-campus Civic and Voter Empowerment Coordinator.

Sacramento State worked together to make voter engagement a priority on its campus in 2018 and continues the efforts in 2020. “It really takes the collaboration of an entire campus community," Mora says, adding that ASI worked with several different underrepresented student groups—including the Black Student Union and the Lavender Collective—to create exciting awareness events before the 2018 election. “A lot of different student groups came out to celebrate and underscore the importance of an inclusive effort. For me that's really important because we already struggle to get young people to vote and it's even harder for the more marginalized voting communities."

Although March is a primary election, and not a presidential election, Mora hopes students take each with the same level of importance. “All elections matter. It is something special to have the ability to vote and even more special to be able to encourage everyone around you collectively make their voices heard," he says.

​​​CSU Campus Voting Centers - March 2020 Primary

Please check with your county's elections office for the times, dates and latest information on voting centers near you.

Chico State
Ball Memorial Union, West 2nd St., Chico CA 95928
Butte County Recorder ​​​

​CSU Dominguez Hills
Auditorium, 1000 E Victoria St, Carson CA, 90747
Los Angeles County Registrar website

Fresno State
Student Recreation Center East Gym, 5010 N Woodrow Ave, Fresno CA 93710
Fresno County Registrar website

Cal State Fullerton
CSUF Irvine Center, 3 Banting, Irvine CA 92618
Orange County Registrar website

Cal State Long Beach
Pacific Sunset A & B, 1250 Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach CA 90840
Los Angeles County Registrar website

​Cal State LA
Library Palmer Wing 4049​, 5151 State University Dr, Los Angeles CA 90032
Los Angeles County Registrar website

Redwood Hall 180, 18111 Nordhoff St, Northridge CA 91330
Los Angeles County Registrar website

​Cal Poly Pomona
Bldg 35/Ursa Minor Room, 3801 W Temple Ave, Pomona CA 91768
Los Angeles County Registrar website

​Sacramento State
Modoc Hall, 3020 State University Dr., Sacramento CA 95819
Sacramento County Registrar website

San Francisco State
Towers Conference Center, 798 State Dr., San Francisco CA 94132
City and County of San Francisco

​San José State

Dr. Martin Luther King Library, 150 E San Fernando Street, San Jose CA 95127
Santa Clara County Registrar website