Members from DCR and DCD discuss mail-in voting, voter suppression and registration and voting as a college student
This November, many college-age students are voting in their first presidential election ever. Members of Generation Z—people born after 1996—make up 10% of eligible voters in the U.S. this fall, according to the Pew Research Center. With a voter turnout of less than half the undergraduate population—48.3%—in the U.S. in 2016 and lower morale on campus this fall, The California Aggie reached out to leaders of the Davis College Democrats Club (DCD) and the Davis College Republicans Club (DCR) to discuss their outlook on the upcoming election. For this project, The Aggie interviewed Evan Cragin, a fourth-year political science major and the executive director of DCD and Aurora Schünemann, a third-year international relations and environmental policy major and the president of DCD, on Oct. 19 and Casey Felton, a third-year cognitive science major and the political director of DCR, on Oct. 26.
Below is a transcript of the interviews that has been edited for length and clarity.
The California Aggie: Hi, everyone. I’m Sophie Dewees, the features editor for The California Aggie, the student-run newspaper at UC Davis, and this is the first installation of The Aggie’s new project to spark conversations about the elections with community members. Joining me today is The Aggie’s, new media manager, Sierra Jimenez and two leaders of the Davis College Democrats Club, who I will now let introduce themselves.
Aurora Schünemann: Hi there, I’m Aurora. I’m the president of Davis College Democrats.
Evan Cragin: Hi, my name is Evan. I’m the executive director of Davis College Democrats.
TCA: Could you also say your majors and grade?
AS: Yeah, I’m a third-year international relations and environmental policy major.
EC: I’m a fourth-year political science major.
AS: I use the she/her series.
EC: And I use the he/him.
TCA: Thank you so much. So, my first question is about 24 million members of Generation Z are eligible to vote this November. And they make up about 10% of all voters, according to the Pew Research Center. As members of Gen Z, and club leaders on campus, what are the issues that are most important to you in this election?
AS: I think there’s a lot of issues kind of from the local to the national that are super important. I think, an issue that’s kind of always in the background, and is a very dire threat to all of us is the issue of climate change and taking steps at the national level towards climate mitigation in terms of greening the economy and the energy sectors, in particular. I think, though, that in this election, in particular, when it comes to the national level, we’ve experienced over the past four years a degradation of so many aspects of the national government, both the political and the bureaucratic structures, that at this point, I think the fragility of our democracy [has] really become obvious. And so I think this election is really, absolutely imperative that Joe Biden gets elected so that we can start to repair and reconstruct some of the institutions. Even, you know, now we’re seeing the CDC, which used to be like, the most respected public health organization in the entire world, [it] has been completely undermined. There were stories this week about how Trump has been installing political operatives in the CDC to basically manage the information that is being sent out. And that is not just an issue of politics because there’s always a new election, there’s always, you know, differences between administrations, whatever else, but this is like a very life and death situation. There are over 200,000 Americans that have died due to this pandemic, and the absolutely catastrophic mismanagement of it at a national level.
TCA: How when you two evaluate the presidential and vice presidential debates so far?
AS: It was like little children, kind of arguing and just profoundly unprofessional. You just didn’t really get any sense of what either candidate was trying to talk about because there were so much interruption and name calling and antics.
EC: Well, the vice presidential debate was nice to watch.
AS: Yeah, it was, I think the fly, you know, was really the most memorable aspect. No, I think the VP debate was normal and it was fine. I think it just kind of, you know, it was nothing especially interesting. You know, I think we’re both giant politics nerds, and we’re actually housemates, so like our house, watched it together. And it was just like a normal debate watching experience.
TCA: How do you think the election will be different this year? And/or how do you think COVID-19 might affect the election results?
EC: Well, I mean, I think it’s been obvious with how much early voting, how that’s going to affect how we perceive how the election is going to be won. Like we don’t know if we’re going to know on election night. We don’t know if we’re going to have a Bush 2000 where we don’t know for weeks. I think we just need to be ready […] to face the unexpected.
TCA: Yeah, kind of going off of that, so President Trump has pushed a lot of disinformation about voter fraud in regards to mail-in voting, and should it be a close election like you were talking about, do you have concerns about the possibility of Trump refusing to concede on the basis of these claims?
AS: Potentially, as Evan was just saying, because there’s so much more voting by mail happening this election and the election in some states have gone on for weeks now. In California, for example, like today is the last day that you can register to vote but a lot of us received our ballots at least two weeks ago. I think that there’s a possibility that on Nov. 3, we will see like in person, because there’s a lot of states that only start counting mail in ballots on election day. So it’s possible that that day, the returns that will be coming in will be only from in-person voting. And it is possible that Trump will declare victory on Nov. 3, based only on those numbers. But I think that realistically, from everything that we’re seeing, it looks like there are a lot of votes by mail that will be counted in the following days, and hopefully will be a clear enough victory that it will be impossible for Trump to claim that he has won. But as you said, it’s also possible that it will be a situation where, you know, where it will come down to the Electoral College, as it often does in this country instead of the popular vote. And so it might end up being decided by the Supreme Court. I do have faith, though, that, the Supreme Court, and our institutions, as a country will be able to determine the results of the election and that Trump is not going to lose the electoral college and remain in office.
TCA: Definitely, and then Evan, do you have anything else to add?
EC: I think we worry more about his threats than we do that there are institutions in place that protect certain aspects of American politics.
TCA: Voter suppression is an issue that’s come up quite frequently in the news during this election. Do you think that this will play a significant factor in the election this fall?
EC: Yes. I think voter intimidation is one we’re seeing start right now. I was reading an article last night about how a sheriff in a certain state, one of the swing states, was worried […] about people bringing guns and open carrying to voter poll places that were voting early and on Election Day, to intimidate people. But he was also worried about police presence being intimidating to people that were going there because it was an urban center with a large minority population. So there’s really, there’s definitely ways that voter intimidation and voter suppression will play a part. If you want to speak on voter suppression.
AS: Yeah. Obviously, voter intimidation is a very big factor. But I think voter suppression is as well. I mean, even here in California, we were talking yesterday, like Stanislaus County only has to ballot drop-off locations in the entire county. And that’s, that’s here in California, where we are a national leader when it comes to early voting, in particular, but voting in general. And so we’re seeing you know, in Texas, for example, there was like that court case that kind of struck down the governor’s ruling sort of that they were allowed to only have one ballot drop box per county. But what we’re really seeing is that, you know, voter suppression has existed consistently throughout U.S. history, particularly when it comes to suppressing votes of folks of color and poor people. But we’re seeing that […] with the rise of this, new form of voting due to the pandemic voting early and voting by mail, we’re seeing new ways for them to be able to intimidate voters. But there’s also encouraging signs like in North Carolina, they started early voting, and there were people waiting hours and hours in line to be able to vote. They shouldn’t have to wait for hours, but the fact that early voting is becoming more of an option so it’s not just on a Tuesday in November, but it’s that there’s an option for you to go and vote, weeks before the election, even in person,
hopefully, is going to be a good thing. But the issue of voter suppression is a consistent theme and is something that I think […] new legislation would definitely need to come out at a national level, as we hopefully take back the the presidency and the Senate and keep our hold on the on the House that there’s going to be national legislation to regulate, I think, voter registration and voter eligibility laws.
EC: And restoring the Voting Rights Act.
TCA: Yeah, kind of going off of voter registration, so I read an article, today actually, in The New York Times about how there have been Republican gains in voter registration in three critical states: Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. So how do you think increased voter registration might affect the election results this fall?
AS: So I was actually listening yesterday. They were talking about this exact issue on a podcast that I listened to. Yes, there have been, they were specifically talking about Florida and Pennsylvania, yes, there have been gains in sheer numbers of people registered. However, there are also a lot of polling that indicates that the Republicans are losing support among already registered suburban voters. So it’s like ok, so the Republicans register one new voter does that mean that they are also going to be keeping every single one of the voters in the suburbs? Not necessarily. So it’s not really like a like-for-like comparison. There are a lot of new people registering to vote for the first time. That is true and that is a positive thing. The more people that are voting, the better it is. I don’t think that they necessarily seeing larger numbers of Republicans being registered for the first time is necessarily a cause for concern because I believe that the president’s behavior over the past four years and everything that has happened, you know, in 2020, in particular, means that he has lost a lot of support, and that there is a lot of people who voted for him in 2016, who are no longer going to be supporting him this time around.
EC: Trump so narrowly won in three different states that decided the election last time that just small changes after the four years can make a huge difference in the electoral outcome. And in 2016, he was running against someone who a lot of people in those states didn’t like, support, whatever. But in this one, he doesn’t have the same attacking points. And he just is not gaining any more new votes. […] He’s losing a lot of voters that were on the edge.
TCA: And then what advice would you give to members of the Democratic Party who are hoping for a more progressive presidential candidate this fall?
EC: Ok, I mean, I supported Warren in the primary. […] And I’m always hoping the Dem party can be a little more left because I think in a lot of places, we need more direct, critical action on things like climate change and criminal justice rights. But I think right now, Biden is a good mediator and transition. He’s not everything we might want, but he is good in most areas. He will transition from Trump’s chaos into something where I think Congress will have the power to actually enact progressive legislation. And, in the end, I do think Biden will sign most progressive legislation in. I’m not too worried about that. I think I think next election, we can have a better shot at maybe getting a more progressive candidate. But we do have to restore the institutions that are currently under attack before that can be a reality.
AS: You know, obviously, there was a degree of disappointment, you know, and the nature of a primary is that you have candidates from, you know, kind of, we live in a country that really, functionally only has a two-party system. And that means that each party has to […] be a very big tent. And so in the primary, we did see candidates who were significantly more to the left than Joe Biden, although still by global standards very much centrist. But I think the thing about Joe Biden is that, you know, as Evan said, like he does, he will actually be able to get things done. I think the other thing that we don’t talk about enough, as the left, is that his platform is extraordinarily progressive. And so many of the things that Bernie brought into the conversation in 2016, for the first time into the mainstream political discourse, are crucial aspects of Biden’s platform. Biden, I think, Biden and Harris, both of them, kind of struggle with talking about their policy. But they have absolutely amazing policy, like their economic policy, if they are able to implement it, there are […] estimates that show that child poverty in the United States would be decreased by 70%. And that’s not some like centrist far right, like, oh, boring, stupid, uninteresting policy, like that is a legitimate thing that as the left we should be absolutely excited about and really supportive of, and I think that we have such an obsession with candidates as individuals. But I think when it really comes down to it, that platform is an extraordinarily progressive platform for this country. And I’m very, very excited about it. And I think the idea of disappointed, I get the disappointment and I understand so many young people who this is […] both of our first presidential election? No you voted in 2016.
EC: I voted [for] Hillary.
AS: Ok, this is my first presidential election, and I know that this is many people our age’s first presidential election, and we had, you know, so many hopes, but the idea that like, oh, my candidate, Bernie in particular, didn’t win the primary means that I’m not going to vote strikes me as so, it is so frustrating to me because it is hypocritical and it is privileged and it is […] like setting your ideological purity at a much higher level than the actual, real lives that will be impacted by this election. You know, there are very concrete numbers. More than 200,000 people could be alive if we had had someone as president who could have managed this pandemic. And that’s not an opinion that is very factual, right? And this obsession with ideological purity on the left, I find very frustrating because the policy is there and this is real and this is not about politics it’s not about purity, ultimately, it’s about getting things done.
EC: If you told me during the primary that I would be excited by October, by August, honestly, to vote for Joe Biden, I would not have completely believed that. But seeing his climate actions, seeing his minimum wage increases, seeing the amount of poverty he could cut if his economic plans are passed, is genuinely exciting because it will help real life people. It’ll increase the safety net so much and it just [has a] very direct real world impact on a huge amount of [the] American population.
TCA: Yeah, so you kind of already touched on this, but young adults have, like historically have had, a lower voter turnout rate. So what would you say to voting age students who might be listening to this?
AS: Vote. […] We kind of were talking about voter suppression earlier, there are a lot of structural barriers that exist to young people voting, like the fact that normally we have school or work on a Tuesday and are not in economic positions where we can take a day off of work or not go to class. But I think that this election really does present an opportunity because for example, in California, like everyone who is registered to vote is going to be mailed a ballot. You can find 10 minutes to fill out about at home, you can. And […] in Yolo County, in particular, like we are extraordinarily lucky that we have a lot of ballot drop boxes that have been already set up. We have four in Davis alone, and there’s going to be vote centers set up, as well, for the four days before the election. So this is not a time to say that you don’t have the time, that you don’t have the energy, that you can’t do it, you can. And there’s a lot of resources available online. I think through social media, just like for the first time posting about what certain propositions mean, I think like people are engaging around this election a lot more than they have in the past. And that’s really exciting. And, you know, this is our opportunity to prove all of the old people wrong who say that young people don’t care and that we don’t want to do anything because we do. And […] young people are passionate about this and we do want to turn up, and we just […] need to show up.
TCA: Awesome. Evan, did you have anything to add to that?
EC: I know some young people, like especially because we live in California, are discouraged on federal elections because it is, for the most part, statewide elections are like [a] one-party system. Like the democrats are just going to win. But your vote can have such direct impact on local elections from the county to your congressional district because there’s still a lot of swing districts in California that can go either way and that will have a bigger impact than your federal election vote. But it […] still requires you to go and vote the whole way.
TCA: Yeah, definitely. Well, thank you so much, again, for joining me. I think that’s all of the questions that I have. But like Sierra was saying, we really appreciate you guys taking the time out of your day to speak with us. This is definitely a really important election. It’s one for the history books, so we really appreciate it.
[End of DCD interview]
TCA: And this is the second installation of The Aggie’s election project. Joining me today is the Aggie’s new media manager, Sierra Jimenez, and a leader of the Davis College Republicans club or DCR. And I will let them introduce themself now.
Casey Felton: Hello, everyone. My name is Casey D. Felton. I am the current political director of the Davis College Republicans. I’m a junior, though I’ll be graduating this year. My major is cognitive science, and I use masculine pronouns.
TCA: Awesome. Thank you so much. So, as I’m sure you know, many members of our generation, Gen Z, will be voting in their first presidential election this fall. We actually make up 10% of all voters, according to Pew Research Center. As a member of Gen Z and a club leader on campus, what are the issues that are most important to you this election?
CF: So, speaking as a representative of the club, as opposed to myself, the issues that are most critical for the folks that I interact with in the club are one, the economy, two, I would say foreign policy is pretty big. In fact, I think that’s one of the biggest distinctions they draw between current front runner candidates. And then three, they’re very concerned about corruption, and that kind of thing within Washington. So there’s, and I’m speaking specifically on issues that would generally tend to divide members of the club DCR from the more general student populace, of course, tons of us are concerned about Coronavirus, obviously, but that doesn’t tell you much about us if they say that. The economy is big because there’s a huge amount of econ majors in our club, and, as a result, there’s a strong feeling that capitalism and free market economics is the way forward for the country. So hearing policies like socialized medicine, like increased government spending, is usually something that’s going to drive club members away from a candidate. When it comes to foreign policy, there’s definitely more of a hawkish trend in that we tend to be more concerned with countries like China that are flexing their power in their region, and making sure that we counter that power with American power, which we generally see is more freeing and beneficial for people, especially considering, you know, there’s Uyghurs in camps right now and people in Hong Kong who are fighting for their rights. There’s a general feeling that certain candidates would be easier on China than other countries, and certain candidates might be easier on Iran and North Korea than other candidates.
TCA: Ok, awesome. Thank you. And what is your opinion on the presidential and vice presidential debates? Was there anything that particularly caught your attention? Surprising to you? What did you think of them?
CF: Personally, I thought the first one was a national tragedy, and I think that was a feeling that was shared with many club members. All told, I don’t think any American voters got much productive information out of either debate. All candidates seemed to dodge every important question that was asked to them. And any of the information that we would actually want to know, such as, you know, [information] about Donald Trump’s taxes or information about Hunter Biden or court packing at the first debate, though of course, Joe Biden has released his stance on that before the second debate, were just, you know, artfully dodged by the candidates. Though, I think the general feeling is that the second debate was much more civil and presidential, and that the addition of the mute button was probably a beneficial choice.
TCA: Ok. And then voter suppression is an issue that has come up quite frequently in the news this election. Do you think that this will play a significant factor in the election this fall?
CF: I think it could. But just knowing what I know about the way elections are won, voter suppression has always been used, and will continue to always be used by all parties, frankly. And things like ballot harvesting, which is literally driving around picking up ballots from people who you know will vote for your party, is used extensively. So I don’t actually think that voter suppression is going to change this election any more than it has changed any other election. I’m happy to see that people are more aware of it and on top of it. As for the club opinion, I think there’s a general consensus that voter fraud is a, you know, a larger concern than perhaps people who are more left leaning. But I wouldn’t say that that’s something that all Republicans or all conservatives are concerned about. There’s a general feeling that mail-in voting is safe and that enfranchising as many people as possible is a good thing. I just think that no major political party is in the business of enfranchising people. It just wouldn’t be logical for them to do so. I think everyone should have access to voting, and it’s great to get people registered. In fact, we as a club literally go out and register people every year. But I think that politicizing, let’s just say, unfair election tactics, which is what is currently going on is saying there’s a narrative in the media, essentially, that the Republicans are suppressing votes and trying to rig the election, when every single party has rigged every single election since the 20s. Before the 20s, Muckraking, right? I mean, the whole political machines, and I think it’s unfair to point that at one side, when everyone wants people to vote. Everyone wants people to be able to vote freely.
TCA: Yeah, okay. And then going off of that, you kind of mentioned voter fraud already. But, there have been so many articles about President Trump, and, you know, his tweets about voter fraud and the disinformation that he’s been pushing in regards to mail-in voting. So, should it be a close election, what do you think might happen? Do you think there’s a possibility of Trump refusing to concede on the basis of these claims? What are your thoughts?
CF: So this is something that we’ve actually discussed extensively as a club, and that there are a lot of people that are quite concerned that the results election night will not reflect the ultimate results of the election, as a result of mail voting, simply because it’ll take a couple days to count all the votes.
TCA: Exactly, yeah.
CF: And in that situation, there’s a general feeling that there’s a very possible, excuse me let me phrase myself better, there’s a feeling that it’s very likely that the case will go to the Supreme Court. And there’s hope that the Supreme Court will rule in an even fair way instead of ruling partisanly.
TCA: Do you think the recent appointment of Amy Coney Barrett will affect that?
CF: It’s possible. I really can’t say. At the club, and myself as well, do tend to think that traditionalist judges who just read the law for what it is, are more likely to just read the law, than those who interpret the Constitution as a living document, in which case, you know, the law really becomes what they’d like it to be as opposed to what it is. But yeah, it is a concern. And in fact, just today, we had a discussion about how, even though this is a win for conservatives, appointing Coney Barrett, we don’t want the court to feel politicized. And there’s a very real concern that if there’s a large number of Republican appointees like eight, or even nine, that that’s not going to be a court that the American people can accept or support. And that’s not an end result that any of us want.
TCA: Interesting. Yeah. And then, you did discuss voter registration a little bit, but kind of going back to that topic, The New York Times recently published an article about Republican gains in voter registration in three critical states: Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. So do you think the voter registration that we were discussing might affect the election results in a significant way?
CF: It is a very, it’s a very real chance. The states that you’re mentioning, the battleground states, like Florida, are going to be what decide this election because there is no chance that Donald Trump gets remotely close to the popular vote, nationally. But you know, he’s trailing by the margin of error, essentially, in a lot of swing states. So the increase get out the vote effort could help him. My gut feeling is that it will not.
TCA: What advice would you give to more moderate-leaning voters within the Republican Party who may have been hoping for, I mean, obviously, Donald Trump was very, very likely to be re-nominated, as he was the incumbent president, but who were maybe hoping for more moderate candidates, or a more moderate Republican candidate?
CF: You know, that’s something that a lot of club members, myself included, have really run up into. You know, there were very few of us who were on the Trump train from day one. I mean, I can say, personally, I’ve been supporting Dr. Jo Jorgensen, this election, the Libertarian candidate, and I believe that about a quarter to a third of the club is as well as an almost protest vote. So I would say look into the Libertarian Party if you’re unable to vote for Trump.
TCA: Yeah, that’s very interesting. And then, as my final question, just general advice for college students because young adults have, historically, a very low voter turnout rate. The Aggie actually recently published a story about low morale on campus in regards to the elections. So what would you say to any voting age college students who might be listening to this?
CF: I’m going to go ahead and toe party line here and say, you should get out there and vote and that your vote matters. You should be voting on the California propositions, you should be voting on Measure B in Davis. And, you know, vote your conscience. It’s easy to get jaded when you’re involved with the political system, and you see the games that go on. But, you know, especially on those local issues, especially on those propositions, your vote really does matter. And it’s not worth thinking, oh, well, California is going to go blue no matter what, so I’m not going to vote. You should still vote on the props, you should still cast the ballot.
Written by: Sophie Dewees — firstname.lastname@example.org
Edited by: Sierra Jimenez — email@example.com