Andre Treiber

Campus organizations hoping to improve low student voter turnout may be short on time to get voters registered for Texas’ presidential primary and city elections in May.

The Texas primary is scheduled for May 29, about a month after the end of classes, because of court battles over gerrymandered districts that delayed Texas’ maps from being set until Feb. 28.

March 30 will be the last day to register for a mail-in ballot, which is the easiest way for students registered in Travis County to participate in the May 29 primary if they are leaving town for the summer. For students residing in Austin over the summer, the last day to register is April 29.

The University Democrats have been encouraging students to register in Travis County this year, and the delayed primary date has frustrated attempts to get more students voting, said UDems communications director Andre Treiber.

“Requiring students to register for a mail-in ballot is going to stop some people from voting because they don’t want to jump through more hoops just to vote,” Treiber said. “It’s going to negatively affect student voting, and that’s really unfortunate.”

Treiber said he hopes students take the time to vote, given the importance of representing student voices after a large number of legislative decisions impacted the University in the last session.

“Getting registered is about as easy as walking into the FAC,” Treiber said. “It’s really worth getting your voice heard.”

As long as a student is registered to vote in the county they are in, most forms of government-issued identification are acceptable, such as a driver’s license, U.S. passport or military ID. A document that shows a person’s name and U.S. address will also work, such as a utility bill or paycheck.

A voter ID bill passed by the Texas Legislature in 2011 would have required that voters present a government-issued ID with a photo in order to vote, but it was denied preclearance last week after the U.S. Department of Justice raised concerns about possible racial bias. The bill could still come into play in the general election in the fall, pending review.

The voter ID bill would have also decreased student voting since many students do not posses the ID required by the bill, said Travis County Constable Bruce Elfant.

“If the supporters of the bill were serious about curbing voter fraud, they would put more possibilities in for voter identification,” Elfant said. “Students without driver licenses would have to get one or stand in line at the DMV to get a government ID.”

Beyond the difficulties imposed by getting such an ID, Elfant said the bill is poorly designed if the legislature is hoping to increase participation in democracy.

“It’s inconsistent that a concealed carry ID would work [under the new bill], while a student ID or a veteran’s ID would not work,” Elfant said. “It’s ridiculous that an ID given by a state institution would be invalid.”

Despite the difficulties imposed by the late primary and the voter ID issue, the College Republicans, UDems, Hook the Vote, Libertarian Longhorns and other organizations are all working to drive student voting this semester, said College Republicans president Cassandra Wright.

“On March 22 we will be holding a big voter registration drive in all the main areas of campus to get people voting, maybe even in their hometown,” Wright said. “This has the potential to be a setback, but all groups are working together to get people voting so it doesn’t adversely affect students.”

Senior government major Paul Theobald moderates Hook the Vote & UT Votes Debate Wednesday evening in Mary E. Gearing Hall. University Democrats and College Republicans debated different issues at the meeting.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

University Democrats and College Republicans faced off Wednesday night in a debate on issues that influence
students most.

Hook the Vote, a nonpartisan agency of Student Government, hosted the debate and posed questions concerning voter identification, undocumented immigrants, the D.R.E.A.M. Act, the sonogram bill and contraception. Those issues were chosen because they are the topics most relevant to students, said Dana Henning, agency director and government junior, in an email.

“The debate serves as a way for us to educate students not only on the issues that concern them most, but also to familiarize them with varying viewpoints surrounding those issues,” Henning said.

Three students spoke for each organization. The College Republicans were represented by treasurer and government junior Jordan Nichols, finance junior Danny Zeng and Plan II junior Benjamin Mendelson. UDems communication director and sociology junior Andre Treiber, public health junior Sandra Ogenche and electrical engineering sophomore Pat Donovan debated on behalf of the UDems.

The debate opened the question of whether voter identification legislation is justified and how it affects students. Both sides agreed that preventing voter fraud was important, but UDems representatives claimed that the legislation damaged democracy by barring disproportionately racial minorities and students, whereas College Republicans argued that it protected the democratic process.

“Conveniently, [voter ID legislation] disenfranchises people like students and minorities, people that vote Democrat,” said Treiber, after citing studies that concluded widespread voter fraud is nonexistent.

Republicans countered that voter ID was not a matter of race and argued that a single fraudulent vote was enough to warrant the legislation.

Mendelson said voting has nothing to do with race, but is an issue of ensuring every single person has one vote.

His teammate Nichols added, “Any single fraudulent vote that we allow is canceling out someone’s legitimate vote.”

College Republicans said the D.R.E.A.M. Act will do nothing to fix problems in the United States’ immigration system.

“These are what we call magnet policies,” said Nichols. “Things like the D.R.E.A.M. Act encourage people to come over here and have anchor babies.”

College Republicans said the real solution to issues surrounding immigration is to secure the border. Donovan, of University Democrats, dismissed their position as xenophobia.

“I’m not really sure there’s an impact to this argument other than nativist chest-beating,” Donovan said. “The real solution is obviously comprehensive reform.”

College Republicans were then asked whether legislation mandating that women have sonograms prior to an abortion was consistent with their party’s platform of smaller government.

Mendelson said the legislation does not alter abortion procedures in a major way and that the bill is mainly symbolic.

“It was a very symbolic bill,” said Mendelson. “Doctors are going to do a sonogram anyway.”

His teammate Nichols said he has not paid very much attention to the legislation.

“This [the sonogram bill] isn’t really doing anything I’ve paid attention to,” he said. “I don’t know anyone that’s getting a sonogram anytime soon.”

The debate concluded with both sides urging students to vote and then offering their closing remarks.

Treiber said students become Democrats because the party appeals to their political intuition.

“I think that the way a lot of us decide to become Democrats is to follow politics and then develop a sense that the Democratic Party makes more sense than the Republican Party,” said Donovan. “The Democrats are a party of ‘we’ and the Republicans are a party of ‘me.’”

Zeng summarized the Republican position and said the U.S. was at a pivotal moment in history that required a long-term vision.

“We believe that our country is at a crossroads,” he said. “What we do this year will determine where we go in the 21st century.”

Most UT students will remain ineligible to obtain a concealed handgun license after a district court ruling last week.

United States district judge Samuel Cummings threw out a motion to overturn a Texas law that prohibits 18- to 20-year-olds from obtaining a concealed carry license on Thursday.

The National Rifle Association filed a case on May 16, 2011, claiming that the state law keeping people under the age of 21 from carrying a concealed handgun violated the U.S. constitution, wrote Cummings last week in his court opinion on the case.

“The licensing scheme does not burden the fundamental right to keep and bear arms,” Cummings wrote. “Neither does the licensing scheme target a suspect class.”

Although most college students cannot legally carry concealed firearms under the current law, a person under 21 is still eligible for a license to carry a concealed handgun if the person is a “member or veteran of the United States armed forces,” according to the Texas Government Code.

Andre Treiber, spokesman for the University Democrats, said the organization supports Cumming’s decision.

“Look back to your graduating class in high school, and think about if your peers were mature enough then to handle the responsibility that comes with a Concealed Handgun License,” Treiber said. “I certainly know that there are people from my year that I don’t think can responsibly handle guns now, let alone then.”

Treiber said he and other members of the organization have been invested in increasing safety regulation for firearm use for over a year.

“We worked closely with Students for Gun-Free Schools to lobby members of the state legislature over the guns on campus issue,” he said. “The judge’s ruling, then, follows exactly what we like — sensible regulation for a rational interest, that interest being public health and safety.”

Alice Tripp, spokeswoman for the Texas State Rifle Association, said the case was promoted by the NRA.

“It is not a lawsuit brought by us, but we support it,” Tripp said. “Given the other constitutional rights endowed to 18-year-olds — the right to vote, the right to fight in war — [the government of the state of Texas] is not being consistent.”

Tripp also said she thought this lawsuit was not especially related to Texas laws, which prohibit concealed carry on campus.

“This case deals with the discrepancy between the age of voting and the age of concealed carry, and that is what is especially disturbing in this case,” she said.

Printed on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 as: District judge chooses to keep concealed carry license age restriction