A 2-hour wait stretched outside the election booths on a sunny morning last November as UT students waited eagerly to cast their ballots. The same night, students gathered after sunset to watch the election results roll in.
The campus election watch party was hosted by TX Votes, a student voter organization that urges students across Texas to participate in local and national elections. The watch party’s coordinator, then-first-year journalism graduate student Kassie Barroquillo, said she noticed students have become more involved in the election process over the past few years.
“Last year, we had a 15 percent improvement in voter turnout,” Barroquillo said. “UT students are caring more about issues that affect them.”
Indeed, UT-Austin’s undergraduate voting increased to 53 percent in 2016. This was a significant improvement from the 2012 and 2014 elections, both of which had a lower-than-average turnout. But TX Votes, which organizes student voter registration, continues to encourage civic engagement.
“The reason a lot of students don’t participate is that they simply don’t know enough,” Barroquillo said. “They don’t know they have to register in advance, or aren’t sure how. We do a lot of activities with civic engagement alliance to try to curb this.”
Last year, the organization used photo booths to celebrate first-time voters. This year, Barroquillo said, they plan to give out cookies to students who participate in the Texas government election. The organization remains highly successful, as it received the award for Most Improvement Voting rate among undergraduate students at the ALL IN Challenge Awards ceremony at Washington D.C. last October.
“We work with numerous organizations around campus,” Barroquillo said. “I’ve seen a sorority register more than 200 voters in just 90 minutes. We just have to get people involved and inform others about the process.”
Barroquillo said in addition to their lack of knowledge on the registration processes, students’ low voter turnout can also be attributed to the fact that they are
unaccustomed to the area they are living in.
“Research shows that college students are transient,” Barroquillo said. “College students move so often, and many don’t know that they need to re-register.”
There also remains the issue of indifference among students who aren’t convinced that the election is of pressing importance. Plan II and business freshman Jessica Shu said she, among others, simply feels apathetic about it.
“I kind of have a ‘leave it to the experts’ mentality,” Shu said. “Ideally, I would get involved, but it’s just not a high priority for me with exams coming up.”
Plan II freshman Shoumik Dabir said he noticed this indifference as well, but believes that there are numerous ways for students to recognize the importance of voting.
“It can seem quite useless, especially how the political climate appears in the news nowadays,” Dabir said. “But it’s really important to get involved, because these issues affect all of us.”
Despite the controversy associated with last year’s national election, Barroquillo said she hopes that students continue to arrive at the polls.
“The expected turnout for tomorrow is about 12 to 13 percent of all registered voters,” Barroquillo said. “It’s really essential that as many people participate as possible.”