It will be the first time Julio Mercado will cast his vote for president of the United States.
The 19-year-old Sacramento State sophomore, who is studying public policy and mass communications, believes there is too much at stake this election year to not cast a vote.
“It is incredible to see so much hate and name-calling and immaturity coming from both of the presidential candidates this election year,” said Mercado. “I don’t want to be one of those people that ends up whining and complaining with the result.”
An ardent Bernie Sanders supporter, Mercado was disappointed when the Vermont senator failed to win the Democratic nomination. Polls showed that younger Latino voters prefered Sanders, while older Latinos backed eventual nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Bernie had a lot of support, no doubt, especially here on the Sac State campus. But, when it came down to voting in the primaries for him, we as students and young people, did not turn out to vote,” said Mercado.
“And that was entirely our fault and we are to blame.”
He doesn’t want this mistake repeated on Nov. 8.
At Sacramento State on Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State Alex Padilla explained to about 250 college students why they should register to vote before the Oct. 24 deadline.
In his ‘Tu Voz es Tu Voto’ (Your Voice is Your Vote) talk, Padilla pointed to statistics showing lackluster interest in voting by youth between 18 and 24 years of age. That group makes up the largest potential voting block in the state.
In 2014, only 8 percent of the same youth voted in the general election and only half (52 percent) of all those who were registered, cast a vote.
The numbers need to increase, said Patrick K. Dorsey, president of the Associated Students, Inc. at Sacramento State.
“There are too many issues that have not been resolved and we can make a difference. On the Sacramento State campus there are more than 10,000 students who do not have enough food to eat and about 3,000 who live in poverty. The cost of a college education is getting higher and higher. Our vote will matter on these issues now and in the future,” said Dorsey.
Padilla, who has been traveling throughout the state talking to high school and college students, shared his personal story of the exact moment he decided to go into politics.
“It was 1994 and there was a proposition on the ballot that targeted Latino immigrants and families like my own. It was supposed to deny certain benefits like access to an education and healthcare and that really bothered me,” said Padilla.
That was Proposition 187, a measure championed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. The proposition aimed to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit undocumented immigrants from using non-emergency health care, public education and other public services. A federal court gutted most of the proposition.
Still, the law motivated young people like Padilla, a recent graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to act.
“I was very cynical about politics. I never imagined I would run for elected office. I graduated with a mechanical engineering degree and thought I would come back to Pacoima, my hometown, find a good job and that’s it,” said Padilla.
“But what was happening politically affected me, my family, my friends, my neighbors – whether I liked it or not, so I chose to act.”
Padilla ran for the Los Ángeles City Council, becoming the youngest member at the age of 26 and after serving seven years, helped organize campaigns and pursued elected office at the state level. He eventually served on the California State Senate and is now the California’s first Latino Secretary of State.
Not everyone has to become a politician to make change, he said, but everyone has the power to organize and if eligible, register to vote.
“There are about 40 million people in California and about seven million who are eligible to vote but are not registered and our figures show that the majority of those who are not registered are you – college students,” said Padilla.
Those that also don’t register include working class and low-income communities of color like Latinos, Asians and African-Americans. Of those groups, the youth are least likely to vote and historically, register at much lower rates.
College students have too much at stake if they choose not to vote now or in the future.
“Can you imagine if one million more of you voted? Do you want to see more funding toward education? Do you want your college courses to be more affordable? If you all decided to vote, your collective voice would be undeniable,” said Padilla addressing the students.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the New Motor Voter Act, which takes effect in January. The law provides that all qualified residents who go to the DMV to get their driver’s license or renew an expired one will be automatically registered to vote, unless they opt out.
Padilla says the law will increase voter registration and, hopefully, turn out in future elections.
But for now, he encourages all who college students who are eligible to register to vote.
Padilla also responded to recent claims, mostly by Republican candidate Donald J. Trump, that this year’s presidential election will be “rigged.”
“I think it is irresponsible and completely inaccurate that such a thing could possibly happen. In California and around the country, we have the strongest security measures to protect voters and the entire democratic process,” said Padilla.
“It is impossible for an election to be rigged, as some have suggested and it is a process that cannot be hacked. To plant this idea into the minds of people in our democracy is to suppress the vote and keep many from not voting.”
This year, Padilla hopes students will look at the issues they care about and find the candidate with the best platform to address those issues.
“If you care about your family, your community and your future, register to vote before its too late,” he said.