Voter turnout doubles across nation, triples at UT

Victoria May

After voter turnout more than tripled at UT during last year’s midterm elections, experts said they expect the trend to continue throughout the 2020 election season.

The national percentage of registered voters more than doubled from 2014 to 40% in 2018, according a national report released Sep. 19 by Tufts University and the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement. Youth in Texas experienced an even greater turnout rate, to where more than a quarter of youth voted in 2018 compared to 8.2% in 2014. At UT, more than 54% of students came out to the polls.

In Travis County, 61.3% of registered voters took to the polls in 2018. Bruce Elfant, Travis County tax assessor and collector and voter registrar, said he expects more people to vote during the upcoming election season, with a predicted 70% voter turnout.

“I am beyond impressed by the voter turnout here in Travis County,” Elfant said. “We have not seen this drastic of a voter turnout in decades. That being said, I want to caution young voters against thinking their vote doesn’t matter because numbers are so high. Everyone needs to continue to vote. This is their generation. They have the power to enact real change.”

Elfant said the voter turnout experienced in 2018 is the largest turnout Travis County has experienced since the 1960s, with more than 480,000 voters in 2018.

Kassie Phebillo, member of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Engagement, said the Texas Voting Summit and Network, a networking event aimed at increasing voter turnout hosted by voter education group TX Votes, played a pivotal role in the drastic increase in voter turnout in Texas. 

UT campus is home to two Travis County polling locations, one in the Flawn Academic Center and another in the Perry-Castañeda Library, which was just recently added as a polling location in 2018. Phebillo said groups on campus geared toward increasing voter turnout, such as University Democrats, College Republicans at Texas and TX Votes, helped to increase the number of voters on campus through face-to-face interactions with their peers.

Phebillo also said by 2022, 1 in 3 Texans will be under 30 years old, which makes these campus organizations even more vital to voter turnout.

“Everything we do, we do for the students,” Phebillo said. “The people that lead so many of these organizations related to increasing voter turnout are students. Though there are some organizations backed by staff, so many of the students champion voting rights and civic engagement. Students at UT pride themselves in being so knowledgeable and knowing how to work together collaboratively to help their peers.”

According to the report, college students of color also saw increased turnout across the nation. Voter turnout of black female students increased to 43%. More than 38% of Hispanic female students voted, rising from 14% in 2014. Asian students nearly tripled their rates, increasing from 9% to 26%.

“There is a lot of potential there,” said Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, alecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. “Young folks don’t tend to register, don’t tend to vote at the same rates that older folks do.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that voter turnout at UT increased to almost 25%, when that statistic was in reference to Texas youth as a whole. The Texas regrets this error.