Daron Shaw

In response to a Presidential Executive Order calling for an expert committee  to improve the voting prowess for citizens, government professor Daron Shaw surveyed local election officials throughout the U.S. last fall to better understand the challenges and successes encountered in past elections.

In March 2013, President Barack Obama called for the creation of a Presidential Commission on Election Administration, made up of lawyers, businessmen and professors from across the U.S.

In conducting his survey, Shaw said one of the biggest challenges he faced was trying to gain the contact information for thousands of local election officials. Once they had done that, Shaw and his team emailed and faxed the more than 7,700 local elections officials for whom they had contact information. The officials’ responses were amalgamated to discover inefficiencies in the overall election process.

“Local election officials mentioned several [challenges they faced],” Shaw said in an email. “Most common were the availability of poll workers — 18 percent said it was a “concern” in 2012 — and voter education — 13 percent.”

In the commission’s report, which was presented to Obama in January, the commission recommended no voter have to wait longer than 30 minutes to cast their vote. To counter long lines, the commission suggested improvements such as expanding online voter registration and early voting periods, using new technology to more efficiently operate polling places and mandating better communication of registered voter lists between states.

Christian Chanter , a radio-television-film and government sophomore, said he was deterred from voting in the 2012 presidential elections because of long lines at the Flawn Academic Center.  

“I even went … and saw the line, and I didn’t want to wait for two hours to spend two minutes to vote,” Chanter said.

Chanter said he had registered and was excited to vote in his first presidential election but ultimately didn’t have the extra time to spend in line.

According to research from the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, 61.6 percent of voting-eligible Texans reported being registered to vote in 2012, ranking Texas the 42nd state in national rankings of eligible citizens registered to vote. Voters aged 18-29, a demographic that includes the majority of University students, had some of the lowest voter turn outs in 2010, with 16.1 percent voting.

Grant Wiles, a government sophomore and campus field director for Students4Wendy, a student organization in support of Democratic candidate for governor, Wendy Davis, which holds voter registration drives twice a week, said factors such as not being registered in time due to lack of awareness could prevent students from voting.

“[Students] might not know how important their vote is,” Wiles said. “They can really make a difference.”

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama is traveling to the Republican stronghold of Texas Tuesday to promote his policies, raise funds and experience a country music performance.

Obama is coming to Austin to raise money for his re-election campaign and will be joined by singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker at Austin Music Hall. Tuesday’s event is expected to be one of his last campaign stops in Austin this campaign cycle.

The campaign is selling tickets for around $250 for the Austin Music Hall fundraiser, a relatively lower price compared to a previous event at Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater where tickets sold for at least $1000.

Government professor Daron Shaw said the Obama campaign has been engaged in narrowcasting, or targeting a narrow audience, to promote highly tested and localized messages.

“Because there are young people and students in Austin, it is very likely he will emphasize issues that have a particular appeal to those populations,” Shaw said.

The President has made education a central part of his platform during his term. He implemented student loan reform as well as working to make college more affordable by doubling funding for Pell Grants. The student loan reform, starting in 2014, will allow new borrowers to pay no more than 10 percent of their disposable income. This law also allows remaining debt to be forgiven after 20 years and after 10 years for those engaged in public-service professions. Since 2008, Obama has increased the number of Pell Grant recipients from 6 million to 9 million by eliminating the middlemen banks from the college-loan program.

Andy Hogue, spokesperson for the Travis County Republican Party, said it won’t do Obama much good to campaign for votes in a state as Republican as Texas. He predicts Obama will mainly speak about same-sex marriage and health care.

“He is appearing at a fundraiser hosted by a local gay rights organization,” Hogue said. “It’s quite ironic that Mr. Obama’s campaign will prosper from having come to a part of the country that is so opposed to his agenda. If Texas had followed in his footsteps, we wouldn’t have as much money to give.”

The Travis County Democratic Party is looking forward to Obama’s visit. Chairman Andy Brown said he wants Obama to continue talking about the accomplishments he has made.

“Obama comes at a perfect time to inspire volunteers to start working on the fall campaign,” Brown said. “I want him to highlight his policies versus the policies of Mitt Romney.”

The presidential visit will cause nine bus routes to be detoured from around 1 p.m. to approximately 8 p.m. The major corridors, Barton Springs Road, Riverside Drive, Congress Avenue, Lamar Boulevard and 5th Street will not be affected. Signs will be posted at each of the affected stops to provide alternate routes, according to Capital Metro.

The Democrats are greatly outpacing Republicans in contributions from college students this election cycle, according to a recent report from a government watchdog group.

The Democratic National Committee has raised $428,600 — more than 20 times their Republican counterpart, the Republican National Committee, which only raised $18,400.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based research group, made the list by analyzing Federal Election Commission filings in which the donor listed their occupation as student.

“This is distinct to this particular time,” said Daron Shaw, an associate government professor. “To be quite honest, college students don’t usually keep up with politics. They tend [to] respond to the loudest and most prevailing political wind.”

Shaw said it is up in the air as to whether this trend will remain in years to come.

“Recruiting and voting for college students is very difficult,” he said. “It’s not sure they’ll vote, and if they do, it’s not sure how they’ll vote. Having appealing top-level party members — such as Obama and, to a lesser extent, Hillary Clinton — have helped the Democrats.”

Young voters’ current liberal stances on social and religious issues are not going to help Republican candidates in upcoming elections, Shaw said.

“The upcoming generation will be very influenced to how successful Obama’s economic policies are,” he said. “Republicans might have to wait for a political environmental change to occur. Students these days tend to be more socially progressive and less traditionally religious.”

Many of the largest donors in the report are related to other large political donors. Alexander Soros, who held the top spot on the list, has donated $73,800 for Democrats this election cycle. He is the son of billionaire George Soros, who has been one of the Democrats’ largest contributors.

Cameron Miculka, spokesman for the University Democrats, said the Democrats’ stance on education plays a large part in the contributions from students.

“Democrats are looking to reform education and make college more affordable for everyone,” Miculka said. “These are the things students look at, and it adds excitement for the party.”

The overwhelming monetary support for the Democrats is mitigated by a roster included in the report of candidates students would be likely to support. This list included both Republicans and independents, which suggested that unlike their peers, Republican-leaning students are more likely to contribute to individual campaigns rather than to national party committees.

“Students’ partisanship is not a foregone conclusion,” said Natalie Stroud, assistant communication professor. “At schools like the University of Texas, there is quite a bit of diversity in terms of where students align politically.”