For her work making voting more accessible to UT students, chemistry senior Maya Patel was selected last week as one of nine recipients of MTV’s Leaders for Change grant.
Maxwell Zorick, MTV’s senior director of social impact, said MTV and TV network VH1 selected Patel out of around 100 candidates. The MTV grant program divides $100,000 among the winners and recognizes young people advancing voting rights, according to the VH1 website.
“We looked to find young people who represented the communities that were impacted most by voting rights,” Zorick said in an email. “These young leaders are breaking down barriers that make it hard to vote in their communities.”
Patel is the former president of TX Votes, which helps register students to vote at UT, and now helps the organization as an adviser. Patel said she helped create TX Votes’ STEM committee to engage with STEM students, who vote at lower rates than non-STEM students.
Patel said in 2016, voting lines on campus wrapped around the Flawn Academic Center, causing some students to wait hours to vote. She said she and two other students led a movement to make the Perry-Castañeda Library a second polling location on campus in 2018.
During the 2018 midterm election, UT student turnout tripled from 17.6% in 2014 to 54.8%, according to data from the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University.
Kassie Phebillo, TX Votes program coordinator, said the most impactful thing Patel contributed to the organization was her work on the classroom program, where TX Votes members go to classrooms to register people to vote.
“She, as the chief volunteer deputy registrar … rolled out our very first classroom voter registration program, which is now how we do nearly all of our voter registration,” said Phebillo, a communication studies graduate student. “We’ve actually registered over 4,000 people this semester, and I would argue about 3,000 are through the classroom registration.”
Patel also recently started working as the Texas State Coordinator for the Campus Vote Project, which works with colleges to reduce barriers to student voting, according to the organization’s website.
“Democracy only functions when everyone participates, and I guess that is why I am passionate about making sure that everyone has access to be able to participate,” Patel said. “I truly believe that if everyone is voting, a lot of these political problems can be solved.”