University of Arizona junior Celeste Marquez is voting in her first election.
“I am voting because I want a leader who believes in science, who stands for women’s and minorities’ rights and someone who will make mine and others’ futures better,” said Marquez, a 21-year-old studying family studies and human development.
Sophomore Alan Cristobal Elias, who is studying law, feels an obligation to vote for the Latino community.
“Whether it be the systemic racism that affects us or our Latino brothers and sisters that get caught crossing the border, it’s our duty to vote,” Elias said.
Elias is supporting the Biden/Harris ticket and hopes a Democratic administration will do a better job of addressing police brutality and abortion rights.
Senior Mauricio Herrera, another first-time voter, intends to drop off his ballot on Election Day.
“A lot of damage has been caused by the current president and we need someone to reverse it and make sure the voices of the people are heard,” Herrera said.
These three UA students, much like their peers, have been a major target for Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts. College students are a fickle voter demographic; in 2012 only 11,361 UA students voted out of 30,113 for a turnout of 37.7%, according to a campus report by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement; in 2016, that same survey showed that only 12,105 out of 33,130 cast a ballot, or 36.5%.
This year looks different.
Aggressive get-out-the-vote strategies appear to be getting younger voters to turn out. As of Oct. 31, among Pima County’s 80,314 registered voters between the ages of 18 and 25, 31,584 had returned ballots, for a rate of greater than 39 percent.
UA President Robert C. Robbins said the Democratic platform likely ticket “resonates more with university-aged students.”
“The platform that Joe Biden has established with the Democratic Party I think would be more appealing to this age demographic,” Robbins said.
Pima County Democratic Party Executive Director Joshua Polacheck expects a very close election, which is why he is pushing turnout among university students.
“The vote in Arizona could come down to a matter of a few tens or a few thousand voters…and you know that’s the difference between turnout at the University of Arizona.”
The Pima County Democratic Party has funded efforts by the University of Arizona Young Democrats and Pima County Young Democrats for GOTV efforts, including specialized flyers encouraging younger voters to cast a ballot.
Those efforts have also been bolstered by Mission for Arizona, an effort by the Arizona Democratic Party in association with former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly’s campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Martha McSally. Mission for Arizona has been canvassing since early February of this year.
Miles Blakley, a UA junior studying Philosophy, Politics, Economics and Law (PPEL) and field organizer for Mission for Arizona Wildcats, has dedicated 10-15 hours a week getting students registered to vote. With COVID forcing virtual efforts, the group has been hosting student-centric watch parties, running phone banks and presenting events with the likes of Kelly, his wife Gabby Giffords and UA alum Steve Kerr.
“It’s really just been a lot of making calls, sending texts, using your own personal networks to get in touch with people which tends to be a better practice for younger folks,” Blakley said. “That’s what’s going to win this election.”
Mission for Arizona Wildcats has also been encouraging vote-tripling.
“If you get your ballot, ensure that three of your friends have gotten their ballots,” Blakley said.
Neither the Pima County Republican Party or University of Arizona College Republicans Club responded to requests for an interview for this article.
Beyond the efforts of the political parties, independent groups are focusing on educating and encouraging turnout among younger voters. The UArizona Next Generation Get Out the Vote Initiative, a group of 18 UArizona law students, has focused on explaining to younger votes how they can register to vote or cast a ballot. They’ve disseminated videos HOW of law professors and law students talking about why voting is important to them.
“We realized that in this election especially, people have a lot of questions given just the weight of the current election, the state of the world with COVID and everything like that,” said third-year law student Carly Marshall. “People had questions about ‘How do I register,’ ‘Can I register,’ ‘What does a correct voter ID look like,’ things like that. We kind of became a central source of information.”
While students have every right to not vote, the university president believes that it is a privilege that puts everybody on the same playing field.
“You can be part of the decision about the future, of our determination of where we’re going to go,” Robbins said.Katya Mendoza is a graduate student at the UA School of Journalism.