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A group claiming to help college students register to vote popped up in Isla Vista just months before the March 3 primaries. That group was exposed as a fraud this week.
Rock the Vote Santa Barbara, a supposed chapter of the national Rock the Vote nonprofit, was never associated with the national effort to encourage young people to vote. The Independent reached out to the national affiliate and was told that Rock the Vote S.B. was served a cease-and-desist notice in December 2019.
Despite this, the group continued using the same name and logo while recruiting interest at a table set up at UCSB last week.
The Independent went to the Isla Vista address listed on Rock the Vote S.B.’s social media, but the headquarters didn’t seem to exist. As of last weekend, the Rock the Vote S.B. website and related social media were taken down as well.
Rock the Vote S.B. Executive Director Robin Howe initially agreed to meet with the Independent to discuss his organization, but he backed out minutes before the meeting. Howe sent a statement instead:
“In August 2019, I responded to a post on the Rock the Vote S.B. website that they were hiring,” Howe wrote. “I was introduced to and met briefly with Bruce Porter. He mentioned his intention was to create a non-partisan voter registration group in Isla Vista.”
Porter, who is registered as decline-to-state party affiliation, is running for 3rd District Supervisor for Santa Barbara County. He denied any connection to Rock the Vote S.B. or Howe. Joan Hartmann currently holds the seat and is running for reelection against Porter.
Howe said he only agreed to take the role if his compensation came from private donors (whom he would not disclose) and if a firewall were put in place between any candidates or campaigns, among other stipulations.
In Santa Barbara County elections, the Isla Vista voting bloc is part of the 3rd District, a large swing district that encompasses parts of Goleta, Isla Vista, and much of the Santa Ynez Valley. The district relies heavily on Isla Vista student votes to sway the overall 3rd District vote.
Student registration in Isla Vista tends to be liberal and Democrat. In past years, conservative candidates have attempted to suppress those votes through various means, including encouraging students to register to vote in their hometowns rather than in Isla Vista, which would prevent them from voting in Santa Barbara County elections.
Rock the Vote S.B. was reportedly using the same voter suppression tactics. In addition to encouraging students not to register with their Isla Vista addresses — even going as far as telling them their car insurance rates would go up if they did — students reported that the false chapter was encouraging students to register to vote online rather than in person with paper forms, where they can ensure they are properly registered.
Howe disputed these claims. In his statement, he said that his website linked to the official Secretary of State website and that he “always encouraged people to vote in the region where they cared about the local issues whether it is in Isla Vista where they’re attending college or back in their hometown.” He also said that although his group encouraged students to register online, it was because “Gen Z generally is a digital culture” and the group still carried physical paper forms.
Bruce Porter, who denied any connection to the false chapter despite Howe’s claim that Porter had created it, said, “Our campaign has no connection to Rock the Vote S.B. In fact I think this was manufactured to distract us from bringing a voice and change to Isla Vista.” He went on to say that Isla Vista has long been “neglected and ignored” and that the students want something different. He stated his campaign is about listening to what students want.
After this story was posted, Porter contacted the Independent to emphasize that it was his campaign that had no affiliation to Rock the Vote S.B., not himself as an individual.
To read Robin Howe’s full statement, click here.
Voters can check their voter registration at https://voterstatus.sos.ca.gov/. The deadline to register for the March Presidential Primary Election is February 18, 2020.
Correction: This story originally stated Bruce Porter is a registered Republican; he is registered decline-to-state.