2020 Primaries: UT organizations push to register students before Feb. 3 deadline

Aria Jones

With about two weeks left for students to register to vote in the 2020 primary elections, nonpartisan organizations Civic Engagement Alliance and TX Votes are partnering to register students and train Longhorns to be volunteer deputy registrars.

“Being registered, being educated and then going in and making sure that your voice is heard at the polls is one of the most important things that you can do in terms of making policy that reflects your values (and) in terms of electing representatives that are representative of what you believe and what you want,” CEA chair Janae Steggall said.

The last day to register to vote in the Texas 2020 primaries is Feb. 3. Early voting begins Feb. 18, and election day is March 3. The Flawn Academic Center and Perry-Castañeda Library will serve as voting locations, Steggall said.

The CEA hosted meetings on campus Tuesday and Wednesday with representatives from at least 20 different student organizations to form a plan for increasing voter registration and participation on campus. Volunteer deputy registrar training by TX Votes followed the meetings.

At the meeting, Kassie Phebillo, TX Votes program coordinator, shared the organization’s goal of having 92% of students registered to vote in 2020 and a 65% voter turnout in the election. She said the organization also wants to have a text notification system for voters and half of all First-Year Interest Group and Transfer-Year Interest Group students participating in the 2020 election.

Phebillo said the organization is doing classroom registrations in more than 70 classrooms, and she is personally registering students in 30. 

“UT students are killing it,” said Phebillo, a political communications graduate student. “We’re often seen as a school to emulate in this kind of work. What’s pretty incredible about what we’re doing is that it is genuinely student-driven.”

Phebillo said TX Votes is working to create legislation through Student Government to provide excused absences for voting and allow student employees to vote during work hours. She said there would also be a focus on STEM students, who have the lowest voter turnout, according to a 2016 campus report by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement. 

Rahul Gupta, who represented the Student Engineering Council at a meeting, said he was happy with the 65% voter turnout goal and is glad it is so high.

“It’s something we’ve been working on a few years,” electrical engineering senior Gupta said. “We’ve known that there’s not as much excitement or energy behind civic engagement within the engineering community, but I think it’s something that can be changed through a lot of publicity and just activism within student organizations themselves.”

Phebillo gave the first TX Votes training at the CEA meeting Tuesday, where government senior Taylor Edwards became a volunteer deputy registrar. Edwards said her goal is to get the people she sees every day — who sometimes do not know if they are registered — registered to vote in Travis County.

“I just thought that it was something that was important,” Edwards said. “A lot of my friends and people that I’m around a lot … don’t know a lot of information about voting, and sometimes they don’t know the intricacies or the logistics of it. I wanted to be able to better help people with that.”