2020 was a historic year for voter turnout with a record-breaking 159.6 million Americans participating in the presidential election. Contributing to this number was the student-led organization Bulldogs Vote, which helped the University of Redlands make history in its own way.
Last March, coming out of a discussion about student political engagement with her professor, Montserrat Pineda ‘22 found the inspiration to form an initiative to increase the number of student registrations in the upcoming election.
Amidst the growing turmoil of COVID-19 that would soon become central to American political conversations, Pineda formed Bulldogs Vote with the mission to increase awareness on the importance of voting, as well as provide resources to help students cast their vote.
The work of Bulldogs Vote contributed to the university earning first place among independent higher education institutions in California for “the most voter registrations at an on-campus voting location.”
The category is part of the larger California Ballot Bowl, a competition between universities and junior colleges in California. The program was initiated by then-Secretary of State of CA, now United States Senator Alex Padilla.
Although the specific number of U of R students who registered for the 2020 season has yet to be released by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), Pineda estimates this win was the result of the registration of 100-150 students. However, she notes that the Bowl doesn’t count students who were previously registered or live outside of California.
“So you’re probably looking at mostly first-year students that weren’t pre-registered,” Pineda said.
Giving presentations to First Year Seminars was a key factor in familiarizing university students with the club and its work, according to Pineda.
Bulldogs Vote, which has since grown to more than 10 members, uses different online platforms to raise awareness. Hosting different virtual events to bring together students and professors and engage them in conversations is also an aspect that the club has excelled in, Pineda said. Bulldogs Vote’s Instagram page now attracts more than 400 followers.
“I feel like what really allowed us to win and get a lot of registered students was simply the fact that the team is so dedicated and so passionate about this issue, about civic engagement and getting their voice out there,” Pineda said.
Their main tool of communication has been the newsletter, which provides guidance, information, and tools on voting. The club also offers help on answering any questions students might have about different policies being implemented.
Carl Segovia ‘23, a member of the club and manager of its newsletter, explains that the greatest challenge of his work is ensuring facts are correct and not inadvertently misleading.
“[Nobody] wanted to lose a day, or miss a person that could have registered to vote and I think it showed in our final standing of the Bulldogs Vote,” Segovia said.
Motivated by his personal experiences of explaining to his friends the nuances of ballot measures, Segovia joined Bulldogs Vote to inspire other students to become more politically aware.
He suggests everyone to engage in conversations with their friends or family, to help destigmatize the issue. He also thinks everyone should have a news app and to read at least one article a day about a political topic that is relevant or interesting to them.
“Because it can be very overwhelming if you know nothing about congressional proceedings, or this bill, that law. It can be very boring. So just take small steps to kind of get into it,” Segovia said.
Meanwhile, Pineda encourages students to take charge of their surroundings.
“I think that the most important thing is knowing that your voice does matter in that, if you’re passionate about issues, just go for it. Like this organization, a lot of us were passionate about one common thing and we weren’t asking for permission or waiting for the moment, but rather we just took it at full speed and now we’re seeing the impacts of it,” Pineda commented.
As the general election has ended, Bulldogs Votes’ next goal is to make election day an academic day off to make voting more accessible to students. It also hopes to collaborate with different organizations on campus to continue discussions of political engagement, which goes beyond voting.