Students can influence election by simply exercising right to vote

Claire Smith

I cannot count the number of times I have been approached on or around campus by a clipboard-wielding yahoo asking me if I have registered to vote. Yes, I am registered in Travis County, shouting hooligan. No, I can’t stay to chat, wild-eyed stranger. We’ve all had that experience. We’ve all wished we didn’t have to weave through the khaki-wearing, patriotically hued registration assistants scattered around the busiest parts of campus during election season. But there is a method to the madness. If you’re like so many other apathetic student voters, let me let you in on one big secret: Campus is swarming with registration assistants because your vote matters. Your vote can make the difference (I’m talking mathematically, I’m not interested in appealing to your ego).

The countless ranks of registration aids do not stand for hours on end trying to coax a one-word answer out of passing strangers because it is fun. They do it as a public service. According to Michael Winn, the director of elections for the Travis County Clerk’s office, about 40 percent of the city’s population is expected to vote in the upcoming elections based on poll numbers from the 2006 and 2010 elections. Using figures from the 2013 United States Census Bureau, Winn’s projected voter turnout means around 354,160 votes will be cast in the upcoming elections. As a campus of 53,000 students, the UT community could easily “rock the vote,” proverbially speaking. The registration aids understand the power of UT’s numbers. There’s a reason they’re everywhere, and it’s a good one.

In an election as contested as this year’s, with positions in almost every sector of government up for grabs, your vote matters more than ever. The candidates know it. Both State Senator Wendy Davis and Attorney General Greg Abbott have taken to voting centers to encourage people to vote. Last week, while Davis appealed to Austin voters that usually only vote in the presidential election, Abbott appealed to Corpus Christi residents to vote early with actor Chuck Norris at his side (well played, sir). The flower beds on the West Mall are overflowing with campaign signage. Additionally, virtually every candidate in the upcoming election has waged vigorous online campaigns through various social media outlets in the hopes of penetrating the apathy of our demographic. Even though early voter turnout has been dismal, with 33 percent fewer votes cast in the early voting stage than in 2010, the candidates won’t give up on us, nor should they.

But as a group that could wield great influence in this election, student turnout is shameful. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, only 16.1 percent of Texas voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in 2010, making a similar percentage likely in this year’s election. That figure is disgraceful, especially in light of how much change our generation could affect just by showing up to the polls on one day every two years. Every student should vote, and every student should adequately inform himself or herself to do so. Not claiming your constitutional right to vote is akin to forsaking your right to hold an opinion on Texas issues, just as you had forsaken your right to exercise that opinion, all while having to pay taxes and live in a state that gave you the opportunity to have a stake in its future. There is no reason not to vote. As a generation, we have the power to effect change. It all comes down to our voice. It all comes down to our vote.

Anyway, if Chuck Norris said to vote, I’d do it.

Smith is a history junior from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @claireseysmith.