It is 10:59 a.m. and you’re about to be late for an exam. You’re walking fast, barely noticing the young lady with a clipboard headed your way. You look at your phone to appear distracted.
“Are you registered to vote?” she asks you.
“No,” you answer, before realizing you’ve made a huge mistake.
Soon, she’s asking you to sign some papers and you’re promising you’ll register later online, if only she’d leave you alone so you could get to class.
If you are a COC student, you may have already experienced such an encounter, and perhaps you’re wondering: who are these people? And why do they care if I am registered to vote?
In various times throughout the school year, students may find themselves walking past petitioners in between classes. Every petitioner and every person who decides to register to vote impacts the future of other generations and the democracy itself.
Tim, who didn’t want to give his last name, gets paid per signature to petition for votes outside of stores such as CVS Pharmacy or on college campuses. The price range for each signature is $1-$2. He doesn’t represent a specific party, describing himself as neutral.
Petitioners like him don’t have to ask anyone for permission to petition because by law they are allowed to do this. Tim carries a paper that states the laws regarding petitioning and voter registration.
“The right of the public to exercise First Amendment Speech Rights on the privately owned sidewalks immediately in front of the entrance and exit doors to supermarkets,” state the laws established by the In Re Lane Case.
These petitioners can also be involved with local organizations who get permission by campus to have registration drives.
“We receive new applications throughout the year from people that hold these drives,” said an office assistant in the Orange County Registrar of Voters.
She believes these drives are in some ways useful, but the judgment of registration drives is not in the scope of their office.
To avoid any kind of cheating, there’s a very specialized process that has to occur. Once a petitioner gets the signatures they are sent to the secretary of state.
They verify the signatures and the person who collected the signatures has to verify that they were the ones who got them.
A statewide initiative guide can be found in http://www.sos.ca.gov/. It goes step by step through the initiative process, the request for circulating title and summary, the format of petitions, gathering signatures, turning in signatures, the verification of signatures, as well as the eligibility or the qualification for the ballot.
Even when a petitioner comes to a college campus they have to follow a strict code of conduct, such as not impeding the progress of someone walking by, though they sometimes break this rule.
Melinda Uretta, part of student development in COC, is the one in charge of signing up these petitioners on campus as well as making sure they aren’t involved in any hate crime activities.
A petitioner saying racially discriminatory remarks to an Asian student and then assaulting the victim afterwards can be considered a hate crime. Petitioners are asked to fill out a vendor permit when they are on campus.
One petitioner, Pepper Parkinson, was placed inside a COC building with a goal of at least 10-15 signatures at the end of the day. She belongs to the North L.A. Republican Women’s group.
“I’m here to make sure you fill out the form properly and make sure you have the opportunity to vote on June 5,” said Parkinson.
People can also fill out a form to register to vote if they go to the Republican headquarters or if they go to their nearest post office.
Many students come to college not knowing much about politics. Parkinson is at COC to answer any questions a student may have about voting.
“I don’t need to be paid because I have this in my heart,” said Parkinson.
She’s aware that many Democratic groups are paying people to sit down and convince others to register to vote.
While she has never had anyone refuse to sign up to vote, some of the common questions she has been asked from students are:
Why should I be Republican or Democrat?
What is the difference between Democrat and Republican?
Both parties clash on issues such as gun laws, abortion, and same sex-marriage due to differing beliefs. Democrats historically lean to the left politically, described as liberal, which is related to progressiveness and equality. Republicans, the right-wing, are connected with economic freedom and the idea of the “survival of the fittest.” She has a variety of booklets and resources available at her table to help students become better educated.
In the past, there have been times when students weren’t particularly motivated to vote. Today, students seem to be more active especially on issues of gun safety and violence on campus. This probably makes it easier to get students registered.
“I think the most effective groups, though, are when student groups are leading the charge as opposed to outside groups are leading the charge,” said Phil Gussin, a political science professor at COC.
Some groups with a mass of monetary influence write propositions with wording deemed intentionally misleading and are therefore successful in collecting signatures to get them on the ballot. Crisis pregnancy centers and health care clinics fall under these types of groups.
There are also companies or organizations where the goal is not to persuade people, but only get their signatures. Gussin worries about the effect that this will have on our democracy.
Many petitioners care to sacrifice their personal time because they are passionate about an issue, like climate change, or they strongly support a candidate. Others are just trying to make some money.
“The important thing for me being here,” said Parkinson. “[Is] to have a presence for students to realize that when they look at our sign and it says ‘register to vote,’ maybe they would think, ‘Oh I didn’t register. I need to register.’ To be aware that this our right to have a say.”