Cal ath­lete leads voter reg­is­tra­tion drive on cam­pus

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - SPORTING GREEN - By Rusty Sim­mons

Madi­son Roberts no­ticed some­thing the very first time she walked around the Berke­ley cam­pus wear­ing one of the blue back­packs em­broi­dered with gold names and num­bers that are given to all of Cal’s stu­dent-ath­letes.

Once peo­ple rec­og­nized that she was on the women’s lacrosse team, they paid ex­tra at­ten­tion to what she was do­ing.

The se­nior has tried to use that spot­light to pos­i­tively ef­fect change, in­clud­ing a voter reg­is­tra­tion drive that she is spear­head­ing.

“Grow­ing up in D.C., pol­i­tics are just sort of in your face all of the time,” said Roberts, an ur­ban stud­ies ma­jor from Arlington, Va. “I just think it’s so im­por­tant to stand up for what we be­lieve in and com­mu­ni­cate how we feel.

“This is not a par­ti­san-in­fused ini­tia­tive. I don’t want to in­flu­ence your opin­ion. I just want you to de­velop one and use your voice by vot­ing.”

Roberts grew up go­ing to the polls with her mother and hav­ing voter ef­fi­cacy in­stilled in her, but the idea of how she could make a larger im­pact de­vel­oped while work­ing dual in­tern­ships for the City of Oak­land and a trans­porta­tion con­sult­ing firm this sum­mer.

She sur­veyed her lacrosse team­mates and dis­cov­ered that about 60 per­cent weren’t reg­is­tered to vote. Head coach Brooke Eubanks al­lot­ted Roberts an hour of prac­tice time to ad­dress the team, and 30 min­utes later, she had all 35 play­ers reg­is­tered and ab­sen­tee bal­lots printed.

In an exit ques­tion­naire Roberts pro­vided her team, about half of the play­ers said they wouldn’t have reg­is­tered oth­er­wise and thanked her.

“That’s ex­actly why I’m do­ing this,” Roberts said. “It works. If you point peo­ple in the right di­rec­tion, they’re go­ing to do the right thing.”

Cal’s direc­tor of stu­den­tath­lete de­vel­op­ment Bobby Thomp­son linked Roberts up with RISE to vote, the Ross Ini­tia­tive in Sports for Equal­ity’s non­par­ti­san ef­fort to reg­is­ter ath­letes to vote and en­cour­age peers and fans to be­come in­formed and en­gaged cit­i­zens.

There was an in­for­ma­tion ses­sion for first-time vot­ers Thurs­day, ta­bles in Sproul Plaza on Fri­day, and dur­ing the Bears’ foot­ball against UCLA on Satur­day an ex­pected crowd of about 50,000 will see more of Roberts’ ef­forts.

She doesn’t limit her ef­forts to work­ing with teams. Roberts has made posters with pull tags for vote.org and to help peo­ple find re­li­able ways to study the mea­sures on the midterm bal­lot.

Roberts will mail your bal­lot for you.

“Yeah, I was even able to buy en­velopes and stamps and get re­im­bursed by Cal ath­let­ics,” she said. “This is not a dif­fi­cult task, and it’s one of the eas­i­est ways we can ex­press how we feel to our leg­is­la­tures.”

Roberts reg­u­larly re­minds her peers that mil­len­ni­als make up one-third of the elec­torate and can make a huge dif­fer­ence at the polls. If some­one is dis­cour­aged by pol­i­tics or over­whelmed by the breadth of a bal­lot, Roberts finds time to help.

That’s say­ing some­thing. On top of school and lacrosse, Roberts works for Ford GoBike and just started a re­search po­si­tion about de­vel­op­ing low-in­come hous­ing in con­junc­tion with pub­lic tran­sit.

How does she have time for all of this?

“I don’t,” she joked. “It’s a pas­sion project. … I just keep telling peo­ple: ‘You can spend 30 min­utes up­dat­ing your­self on the bal­lot and make an im­pact for years to come.’ ”

Roberts is hop­ing that she’s set­ting a foun­da­tion for a stu­dent-ath­lete-run group that con­tin­ues to drive voter reg­is­tra­tion af­ter she grad­u­ates. She be­lieves that start­ing the push dur­ing a midterm elec­tion has made for a solid trial run for some­one who wants to take the or­ga­ni­za­tion to the next level in 2020.

She al­ways has her eyes on the fu­ture. When a 12-year-old came by one of her reg­is­tra­tion ta­bles re­cently, Roberts planted seeds about vot­ing in six years.

“Be­ing a stu­dent-ath­lete is about more than what you do on the field on game day,” she said. “It’s about what you do with your fancy back­pack. The eyes are on us, but we don’t have a plat­form un­less we do some­thing with it.”

Michael Short / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Cal se­nior Madi­son Roberts, a Bears lacrosse player, is spear­head­ing a voter reg­is­tra­tion drive on cam­pus.

Michael Short / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Cal lacrosse ath­lete Madi­son Roberts was spurred to take ac­tion when she dis­cov­ered 60 per­cent of her team­mates were not reg­is­tered to vote.

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