Undergrads improve UT voting rate by 14 percent

London Gibson

Undergraduate students who showed up at the polls for last year’s 2016 presidential election helped UT become the most improved university for undergraduate voting turnout in the country. 

Out of almost 600 campuses across the nation, UT took home the gold last week for most improved undergraduate voter rate in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. Between 2012 and 2016, UT’s undergraduate voter turnout rose from 41.7 percent to 56.5 percent and rose above the national average of 50.4 percent, according to a report from the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement released in August. 

Kassie Barroquillo, program coordinator for TX Votes, the organization representing UT in the challenge, said it is important for college students to pay attention to who is representing them in government.

“People think that young people don’t care,” Barroquillo said.  “As a millennial myself, (I) think it’s important to say, ‘Yes, we do care. Look at us caring.’”

Improving UT undergraduate voter turnout required getting more students registered. Barroquillo said in addition to approaching classrooms, sororities and organizations about voter registration, TX Votes trained over 200 students to be volunteer deputy registrars, so they could register others themselves.

“People were interested all around, but I think the really important thing is that this year there were enough people to fulfill (voter registration) requests,” Barroquillo said.

In addition, TX Votes established a Civic Engagement Alliance to unite UT organizations also working to improve voter registration rates on campus. The organization alliance registered over 17,000 UT students to vote between 2012 and 2016, said TX Votes president Sarah Herzer.

One of the involved organizations was University Democrats, who alone contributed roughly 10,000 of the newly registered students, Barroquillo said. 

University Democrats president Douglas Snyder said the organization was successful in registering students for a simple reason.

“It was just, go out on West Mall from 9 to 3 every day and yell, ‘Register to vote’ at the top of our lungs,” Snyder said. “There’s not some secret strategy, it’s just sitting out there in the cold and the heat and yelling.”

While UT students were yelling for registration on the West Mall, voter registration improved across the county as well. Bruce Elfant, Travis County’s voter registrar, said in a press conference last year that over 90 percent of voting-eligible residents had registered before the 2016 election, reaching an all-time high. 

Snyder said it is important to ensure everybody votes, but getting college students involved is particularly important, because it could set a habit for the rest of their life. He said students often do not realize the policies being voted on affect them too.

“Study after study shows that if somebody doesn’t start voting young, they’re almost for sure never going to vote,” Snyder said. “And the issues that we vote on … have a pretty significant impact on campus life.”

Herzer, a political communications junior, said TX Votes is now focusing their efforts on the local general election leading up to election day on Nov. 7. 

“Once students start turning out to vote and start being an important part of the electorate, then we’re going to have a greater say in what happens in our government,” Herzer said.