Students with voting restrictions still wield political power

Arushi Mathavan

Go out and vote. Translate your political opinion into action, and cast your vote as an informed, responsible citizen — if you can. 

Although voting is absolutely integral to the democratic process in America, current restrictions bar millions of Americans from voting. Some people who have lived here since they were in diapers, some who have served our country every day and some who were in the wrong place at the wrong time cannot vote. 

At UT-Austin, thousands of students face voting restrictions. A large percentage of UT students barred from voting include international, undocumented and underage students, as well as those with prior criminal records. Even though these students cannot vote during the upcoming midterm elections, they still wield the political power to impact change through other forms of civic duty. 

Voting is a highly impactful form of political participation, but students can who can’t vote can still engage in political conversations and actions within larger groups and meaningful demonstrations. 

Roughly 10 percent of UT students are international, 0.9 percent are under the voting age of 18, and many hold a legal status or criminal record prohibiting them from voting. With such a significant portion of students unable to vote, student and local political organizations must also advertise how students who can’t vote can make an impact. 

While some international students only come to UT to study abroad briefly, others have lived here for years. Ria Upreti, a mechanical engineering freshman, hails from India and does not yet have full citizenship or voting rights in the United States despite having lived here for twelve years. 

“I love being a citizen of India, but I’m more involved in the politics here,” Upreti said. “Since I’m living in America, I would like to be able to make more of a direct change here, and I can’t do that right now.”

Even though she could not vote herself, Upreti convinced her parents, friends and people she met to vote early. 

“The margin is so thin between Beto and Cruz that every vote truly does count right now, and the fact that I can’t vote might make a difference,” Upreti said.

To further perform her current civic duty, Upreti has attended political rallies, joined Texas Young Democrats, attended political meetings and engaged in relevant conversations to voice her views. She, like many other students unable to vote, has a strong perspective. By pushing herself to extend her civic duties beyond individual voting, she is still able to be a politically active student on campus. 

Patrick McDonald, associate professor of issues and politics in American government, lists many ways students with voting restrictions can still contribute to policy change.

“Students can participate in demonstrations, letter writing campaigns and in organizations that are politically involved,” McDonald said. People unable to vote can facilitate collective action, or organize large groups to act by engaging in political rallies, conversations and campaigns.

McDonald also says that enabling a large group of people to better understand and therefore vote one way on a political issue can potentially prove more effective than casting a single vote without speaking further on the subject.

Regardless of background or legal restrictions, all students at UT have the platform to enact change. Our voice matters just as much our vote, and those of us unable to vote are still politically accountable to make sure we speak up for what we believe in. 

Mathavan is a business honors freshman from McAllen.