Cal athlete leads voter registration drive on campus
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.”
Cal senior Madison Roberts, a Bears lacrosse player, is spearheading a voter registration drive on campus.
Cal lacrosse athlete Madison Roberts was spurred to take action when she discovered 60 percent of her teammates were not registered to vote.