Key takeaways

  • A “Democracy Workshop,” part of a series organized by student organization BruinsVote and UCLA Campus Life, recently helped students become more informed and learn to take a more active role in elections.
  • The event was designed as an interactive, in-person version of online voter guides, developed in partnership with nonprofit newsroom LAist.
  • Future programs hosted by the groups will follow BruinsVote’s three-part mission of voter registration, voter education and voter turnout.

As the November general election nears, groups across campus are coming together to help students better understand their ballots and become more civically engaged.

About 25 students attended “Your Ticket to Being a Savvy Voter: Understanding Your Ballot” on April 23 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. This event, part of a series of “Democracy Workshops” for students to become more informed and take a more active role in elections, was organized by student organization BruinsVote and UCLA Campus Life with the help of news engagement producers from nonprofit news organization LAist, the National Public Radio affiliate based in Pasadena.

Participants were given a mock ballot and worked together to answer each other’s questions and research the information they were discussing. The mock ballot included the Los Angeles City Council District 2 race between Jillian Burgos and Adrin Nazarian, who are running to replace termed-out councilman and current City Council President Paul Krekorian, as well as the referendum vote on California Proposition 31, which passed in November 2022 and upheld a ban on the sale of most flavored tobacco products.

“I think a lot of college students can be discouraged from voting because they aren't fully educated on what is on the ballot and how to go about deciding who and what to vote for,” said Alvina Shea, a fourth-year student majoring in public affairs. “I think this workshop helped relieve some of those worries.”

Shea found it helpful and inspiring to hear from LAist producers Brianna Lee and Adrianna Pera, who create educational content that supports civics and democracy, about navigating complex issues while discussing reliable sources and research techniques, ultimately learning how to streamline the process of voting for attendees.

Hannalee Isaacs, a fourth-year student double majoring in political science and sociology, said, “As a voter generally, it is daunting to decide who to vote for, but the workshop helped me feel empowered, watching and collaborating with my peers as we collectively worked to find credible information on candidates.”

“The more we researched and discussed our findings, the more I found myself changing my stance on which candidate to favor,” she said. “Working through this simulation with the help of LAist allowed me to realize that one's choice on who to vote for is a more complex decision than I thought it was, but also an incredibly manageable task.”

Lee and Pera contributed to LAist’s Voter Game Plan to support voter education participation in the March 5, 2024 presidential primary election.

Lee said the LAist team bounced ideas off each other, knowing they wanted the workshop to be engaging and interactive – an in-person version of what they strive for when developing online voter guides for different populations.

“There’s no way to research the right way. There’s no way to vote the right way, and we’re not trying to drive people to a certain policy stance. It’s really about making sure the information is accessible,” Lee said.

Pera found that hosting the workshop helped her understand the university community better.

“This workshop was for the students, but it’s also really helpful for us to figure out what our students’ baseline is, what is the community’s baseline, and how can we incorporate that into how we frame coverage and also specifically the voter guides,” she said.

Philip Goodrich, a manager from Campus Life who works with BruinsVote to organize the workshops, said feedback has been positive. 

“We heard people say that [the workshop] humanized the voting process,” he said. “It showed the importance of doing your research and consulting multiple news outlets and media sources. And I think it shows that democracy and being democratically engaged takes work. You have to put in the effort — it’s not something you can do in a passive manner.”

Future programs and events hosted by the two groups will be directed toward BruinsVote’s three-part mission of voter registration, voter education and voter turnout.

Previous sessions have included critical media literacy as a tool for empowered civic engagement, strategies for talking across political differences, understanding elections with the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, and a watch party for California's U.S. Senate debate.

Students are invited to attend workshops, join the ambassador program, table for BruinsVote on Bruinwalk, and attend watch parties and other voter registration events organized closer to the November general election.