SOVAC accused of Voter Fraud

by Patrick Todd, former Editor-in-Chief of The California Review

NOTE: updates have been appended to this post.

SOVAC, the Student Organized Voter Access Committee, is a non-partisan UCSD organization founded by UCSD student Arshya Sharifian that is controlled by Associated Students.  The organization was founded to increase campus voter registration. SOVAC has received much praise in recent weeks for registering over 2000 students to vote in the first week of school. While efforts to increase the ranks of registered voters can be lauded, SOVAC has been doing so through efforts that violate state and federal election laws and are currently under investigation by the San Diego Registrar of Voters.

SOVAC was created in 2011 as SOPAC, Student Organized Public Affairs Committee as the voter registration arm of A.S. In order to increase funding opportunities, A.S. transformed the organization into SOVAC in 2012. This move allowed them to obtain a larger amount of money from the Associated Student budget with less transparency. During this school year SOVAC has obtained $3100 from the AS budget (not including the money required to support their events.) SOVAC has hosted major events such as a San Diego mayoral debate and has held presidential debate watching parties with free pizza. Records cannot be located regarding the cost of these event nor their final events leading up to the election.

In order to obtain extra money, SOVAC convinced the AS board that UCSD has the lowest percentage of registered students of any UC school and that major efforts would be required for UCSD to compete UCSB’s voter registration success. As part of this effort SOVAC has provided students various incentives to register to vote. One of these incentives came in the form of $1400 spent on wristbands with the word “VOTE” inscribed in 13 languages. This wristband entitles students to discounts at UCSD restaurants such as Santorini Greek Island Grill. Students received the wristbands in exchange for registering to vote. These wristbands were also supposed to be a visual reminder to other students to vote in the November 2012 general election. SOVAC is using $800 of AS money to also sponsor a contest for the college that register the most voters to receive 2000 cookies from the Secret Cookie Service.

While the wristbands and cookies may seem like an inconsequential incentive, they are in direct conflict with the laws described in California’s guidelines to Voter Registration booklet. According to the booklet “Any type of incentive is considered “payment,” even things as seemingly innocent as cookies or admission to an entertainment event and “Violations are punishable by imprisonment for up to five years.” In addition to this, SOVAC has participated in other questionable actions. Every completed voter registration form was scanned and stored on a hard drive in the Associated Students office. While not necessarily illegal, it is quite disconcerting that the Associated Students has private information from about 3000 students stored on a hard drive which many students have access to. This private information includes partial social security numbers, CA identification numbers, phone numbers, birthdates, mailing addresses, as well as signatures. SOVAC has released no plans to safely discard this information.

The events by SOVAC illustrate that Associated Students lack any oversight. SOVAC has been given unprecedented access to UCSD. They were allowed to “storm the dorms” and table inside Geisel library; such behavior would be completely unacceptable and bounds for dismissal for any other student organization including UCSD College Republicans and UCSD College Democrats, who routinely register students to vote. Also for an organization that supposedly has budget problems it is nonsensical that Associated Students has paid well over $3100 of UCSD students’ money to accomplish a task that many student organizations do for free. In addition, SOVAC could have accomplished Voter Registration drives for free however Associated Students funded every single one of SOVAC’s requests with one notable exception: an ipad. What SOVAC would have done with an ipad is unclear.

While registering voters is a worthy cause, Associated Students has proven that it cannot do so in a legal manner. Not only have the SOVAC board subjected themselves to penalties and jail time, they have also potentially created significant legal problems for the school. While it is unlikely, it is possible for the students who registered via SOVAC to have their registrations thrown out by a judge. If this is the case, SOVAC will have successfully blighted the people whom they are trying to represent.

Update: November 6, 2012, 1:18 pm

The article’s author has provided the following sources to substantiate his claims.

In regards to the actual law: See Subsection (c)

In regards to defining incentives: Page 11

In regards to SOVAC’s funding of registration incentives: See Slide 23

In regards to holding student information: See Section IX

More incentives from SOVAC: See Section 10, part b

More on SOVAC holding student information: See Section 1

In regards to SOVAC tabling inside Geisel: See Section 3

SOVAC intending to purchase a $400 scanner: See Section 7, Part b
More updates on this story are coming.


  1. Where does the law say a judge can disenfranchise a voter who got paid in cookies to register? I’m doubtful that’s a thing.

  2. 42 U.S.C. § 1973i(c) says “pays or offers to pay or accepts payment either for registration to vote or for voting shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both”. The CA Secretary of State helpfully chimes in saying “Any type of incentive is considered “payment,” even things as seemingly innocent as cookies or admission to an entertainment event.”

  3. I’ll bring this to Derricks attention tomorrow. There might be an investigation with this.

  4. Who is accusing SOVAC of voter fraud? You have the headline, but no answers to that question.

  5. Good thing they weren’t giving them out as incentives, but to anyone that visited their booth… that doesn’t constitute voter fraud.

  6. Concerned Student · ·

    1). I just want to point out that SOVAC offered those wristbands to anyone who came to the booth whether they registered to vote or not
    2). Also SOVAC did not give out cookies at any point
    3). SOVAC did not do any dorm-storming during the duration of its voter registration drives. The most access they were given was through residential life offices to be a part of the move-in process by having a table (that was optional to students) at the check-in areas during move-in.

    I would say that this is a very embarrassing and offensive article for you all to have published and I would really recommend reconsidering the person who was allowed to write it.

  7. The data is valid… It’s taken straight from AS emails. I’m disappointed that the board was more concerned with covering its ass then checking the facts before issuing the statement…

  8. Taken from AS emails? Are you talking about listserv emails? Stop pushing conspiracy theories. You don’t even go here.

  9. California Review Managing Editor 2010-1011 · ·

    Quality control is needed ladies and gentlemen. There is no way an article should have been published without the approval of the current Editor-In-Chief.

  10. Of course I meant AS listserv emails Mr. Marshall… I mean where else would we get this juicy of a story except from the retards on AS?

  11. Perhaps I wasn’t clear:

    Where does the law say that judge CAN DISENFRANCHISE A VOTER who got paid in cookies to register? I see that you’ve cited a law that discourages people from using incentives to register voters. Fine. However, nowhere does that law grant a judge – or anyone else – the power to cancel a voter’s registration because that voter received a cookie when he registered to vote.

    You can’t just make up punishments. If it’s not in the law, it doesn’t exist.

  12. And can you guys cite a source proving that the San Diego registrar of voters is investigating SOVAC? The Guardian – who actually spoke with SD Registrar – says that there’s no investigation at the moment. Did you just invent that, too?

  13. Maybe from the retards on your own staff?

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