“Every voice matters”: Students celebrate National Voter Registration Day

After five years, the federal government honored VoteSC for its work on making USC one of the most civically engaged campuses in the country. (Bradley Brown | Daily Trojan)

Members of VoteSC and the USC Center for the Political Future celebrated National Voter Registration Day across campus Tuesday, offering students free ice cream in exchange for their pledge to register to vote by scanning a QR code.

Natasha Tieu, a junior double majoring in history and economics and data science and president of VoteSC, hoped to bolster USC voter turnout in light of the approaching November midterm elections by setting up a table in front of Tommy Trojan with a sign reading, “Pledge 2 Vote, Free Ice Cream.”

“We’re at a critical point for our generation where a lot of us are coming into the age that we’re allowed to vote, and we are pretty civically passionate,” said Tieu. “A lot of us take to social media to express our opinions, whatever they may be. But a lot of us don’t actually take those opinions to the ballot box.”

After five years of campaigning for increased voter registration, VoteSC was honored this year by the federal government for being one of the most civically engaged campuses in the country.

“A bunch of college campuses have a competition to see how many students they can register to vote, and we always come in first place,” said Tieu. “We’re hoping to be first place again this year, and I think we’re on track to do so.”

President Carol Folt also arrived at the stand to speak with volunteers about their passion for civic participation.

“Voting is probably one of your most important responsibilities as a member of a democracy,” Folt told the Daily Trojan. “And if you believe in it, which I think we all do, we should be a part of protecting it.”

The results of the 2020 Presidential election inspired Aishat Tiamiyu, a sophomore majoring in public policy, to volunteer for VoteSC to ensure USC students’ voices are heard. Through her internship at California Common Cause, she hopes to increase civic engagement.

“I feel empowered,” Tiamiyu said. “Anytime a person scans a QR code, we say we’re saving democracy one person at a time.”

The USC voter registration rate for undergraduate students in 2018 was just over 75%, but members of VoteSC say there is still room for improvement in voter turnout.

“College is a really unique place because it encourages students to think for themselves without the pressure or consequences of the real world,” said Helen Sohn, co-director of external affairs and a senior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention. “So I think right now is an important time to get started and learn more about what’s going on with our government.”

Sohn intends to encourage students who wouldn’t normally have an interest in the political world to register.

“I feel like people in STEM [majors] typically aren’t interested in voting,” Sohn said. “I know that [in] the political scene, there’s a lot of heated debate. A lot of things trigger anxiety in people, but I want to destigmatize talking about politics.”

VoteSC tabled in both Trojan Plaza and in the USC Village to promote the event. (Benjamin Papp | Daily Trojan)

Alex Flores, a freshman majoring in public relations, said the stand is especially important following the historical and contemporary voter suppression in the United States and across the world.

“I am from a third-world country, El Salvador,” Flores said. “A lot of people over there do not have the right to vote. So when I got my U.S. citizenship, I always told myself I would vote every year because I have the right to do it.”

VoteSC is planning other civic education events as the midterm elections approach.

“We’re actually going to be hosting a series of info sessions for all USC students, where they can come and learn about issues on the ballot for this upcoming November,” Tieu said. “It will be nonpartisan—we’re just getting people facts.”

Jillian Fallon, a senior majoring in political science and public relations and chief programming officer at USG, volunteered at a registration stand in the USC Village.

“We’re unifying behind one voice, whether that be through a politician, through the president, or through USC,” Fallon said. “There are a million voices that contribute to those conversations…even though your voice seems small, every voice matters.”