This election season’s early voting turnout increased by only 39 votes on campus since the last gubernatorial and midterm election in 2010. 

This year marked the start of new changes in Austin: City elections were moved from May to November to coincide with state and federal elections, and the Austin City Council was restructured from six citywide members to 10 members, each representing geographic districts. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said she thought the new districts in Austin, as well as the county’s updated ballot, would increase voter turnout. 

“This ballot is kind of a record breaker,” DeBeauvoir said. “It’s the longest ballot we have ever had, and it is new in the sense that it’s the first time that the City of Austin has done single-member districts. It’s the first time that we’ve had all of our large local entities on the November ballot. This is all brand new for Travis County voters.”

Max Patterson, director of Hook the Vote, a Student Government agency focused on increasing student voter turnout, said he thought the publicity of this year’s race would increase the number of early voters at the University. At the Flawn Academic Center, 6,164 voters cast their ballot, compared to 6,125 in 2010. 

“You would think that they would be a little bit higher, and I think they will be on Election Day, as opposed to in 2010 just because it’s a little bit more popular race,” Patterson said. “More people know about it.”

According to DeBeauvoir, she expected voter turnout in Travis County to be higher with the new system. 

“That is a nice turnout, right in line with the usual gubernatorial turnout,” DeBeauvoir said. “We were hoping for a little better this time around.”

Compared to other Travis County poll locations, the FAC poll location ranked eighth in voter turnout. The lowest early poll numbers are at the Dell Valle Administration Building which totaled 395 voters, with the poll closed on the final voting day. The highest early turnout in the county was at Randall’s on Research Boulevard and Braker Lane with 13,706 voters. 

Despite the similar early voting rates, Patterson said he saw more participation by students in this gubernatorial race. 

“I think we saw, not necessarily in Hook the Vote but in other organizations that have gotten involved in the political process — there’s a number of political organizations on campus, but I think we’ve seen a lot more membership, a lot more action, in them,” Patterson said.

Neurobiology senior Morgan Merriman said she tries to keep her friends accountable and politically involved. Merriman said she thinks low student voter turnout is definitely a problem.

“Civic engagement in general is really important to being a citizen in America, and exercising our right to vote is the most important duty that we have,” Merriman said. “Students who don’t participate aren’t putting their say into their own future.”

Alex Keimig, human development and family sciences sophomore, said her friends all encourage each other to continue to be politically involved and vote.

“Most of my friends are civically/politically engaged, but more so my long distance friends than my local ones,” Keimig said in an email. “We’re all pretty personally motivated to stay engaged, so we support each other but don’t really need to push.”

Merriman said voting at the FAC was ideal location-wise.

“I early voted out of convenience since I am in another district and the place I would have to vote on Election Day is really far out,” Merriman said

Even with the convenience of on-campus voting, Merriman said she didn’t see many other voters at the polls.

“I don’t think the student voting turnout was high because there was literally no line at all ever,” Merriman said. “Students should start caring now about voting because it is our future, which is coming up really quickly, that we are voting for.”

DeBeauvoir said she is expecting about 150,000 people to vote in Travis County on Tuesday, consistent with Election Day turnout in previous years.

Business Management senior Courtney Catalani registers to vote in the West Mall Monday afternoon.  With the new Texas voter ID laws, Hook the Vote tables were set up at five locations around campus to help students on the last day of registration.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

Despite changes to Texas Voter ID Law, UT students are not having many issues with voter registration, according to a Hook the Vote official.

Beginning with the 2013 fall elections, voters in the state of Texas are now required to present an approved form of photo identification to vote in all Texas elections, according to the Office of the Texas Secretary of State. Acceptable forms of photo identification include a Texas driver’s license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety, also known as DPS, a U.S. passport or a U.S. citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph.

At a Hook the Vote sponsored event Monday in Gregory Plaza, Arjun Mocherla, Hook the Vote director and Plan II and pre-med senior said he initially thought out-of-state students without applicable Texas photo identification would be affected the most by the law. Hook the Vote is a bipartisan student organization that promotes voter registration and awareness.

“So far we haven’t had that issue,” Mocherla said. “[The Texas Department of Public Safety] was really great about setting up one of the camera stations the week before the election last fall to help make IDs for anyone who didn’t have an ID. It may impact people, but, as far as students are concerned, I haven’t heard of any issues.”

Monday was the last day to register to vote in the March primaries. Tanner Long, a government junior and council member of Hook the Vote, said he believes the upcoming Texas gubernatorial election has increased student engagement.

“A lot of people don’t necessarily care about the primaries,” Long said. “But I’ve definitely seen a lot of students interested in the governor race coming up because it is crucial for the Democrats here on campus supporting Wendy Davis and the Republicans here supporting several candidates. You hear more conversation going on about the governor’s race, just walking around campus.”

Biology freshman Tristan Emborgo said he became a U.S. citizen in August of last year and believes every decision a government official makes affects him.

“It is my responsibility as a citizen to vote,” Emborgo said. “So it is important that the person I believe in goes to office.”

Hook the Vote registered 15,000 people in 2008, though the number of new registrants in this cycle will not be available until Tuesday.

Mocherla said the organization will continue to push registration, but plans to start providing candidate, party and platform information for students on its website.

“I think a lot of students either don’t know an election is going or maybe don’t know what’s on the ballot,” Mocherla said. “This attempt is to change that. We still think, for students, it might be a little easier for them to access one central access point for information.”

Longhorn Libertarians members Jordan Schmittou, Pierre Rochard and Caitlyn Bates debate the University Democrats Wednesday night in Gearing Hall during Hook the Vote & UT Vote’s debate. The debaters traded words about the presidential election, U.S. foreign policy and the cost of tuition.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

Despite College Republicans’ decision to opt out of a debate Wednesday evening sponsored by Hook the Vote, more than 100 students attended the debate to learn the stances of University Democrats and Libertarian Longhorns on various issues.

The Daily Texan’s editor-in-chief Susannah Jacob and associate editor Kayla Oliver moderated the debate. Each organization was represented by three of its members. University Democrats’ panel consisted of biology freshman Taral Patel, history and government sophomore Carlos Martinez and sport management senior Pedro Villalobos. Libertarian Longhorns’ panel consisted of economics junior Caitlyn Bates, business graduate student Pierre Rochard and government senior Jordan Schmittou. Hook the Vote, a Student Government agency that aims to register students to vote and educate students on issues in a nonpartisan manner, hosted the debate.

Danny Zeng, government senior and communications director of College Republicans, said Tuesday night the organization opted out of the debate due to a lack of organization and concise planning on the part of Hook the Vote.

At the debate, Libertarian Longhorns expressed their support for 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson and his three-point plan consisting of fiscal conservatism, social liberalism and noninterventionist foreign policy.

Schmittou, Libertarian Longhorns student member, said Libertarians give fresh, new and alternative solutions to America’s problems.

“We believe a good government comes from the ground up, not the other way around,” Schmittou said. “For too long we have felt this country has been dominated by a rigid two-party system that does not have the answers holding the interests of the people at heart, and Gary Johnson has proven a consistent record of fostering good, clean government.”

University Democrats defended the Obama administration and urged for a second term.

Martinez said America was losing up to 800,000 jobs a month before President Barack Obama was inaugurated. However, he said 5.2 million jobs were added four years later, followed by 34 months of consecutive job growth. Martinez said President Obama has had many accomplishments on social issues, such as the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a military policy prohibiting openly gay, lesbian or bisexual Americans from serving in the military. Martinez said President Obama is also a women’s rights champion.

“Time and time again President Obama has proven to be an effective leader that knows what he is doing,” Martinez said. “He can lead this country back to prosperity. He is a realistic candidate for the President of the United States.”

Billy Calve, government senior and Hook the Vote director, said the debate’s high number of attendees reflected students’ desire to hear different perspectives. He said Libertarian Longhorns did well at stepping in and representing their beliefs.

“At the end of the day we were able to represent different pespectives on campus,” Calve said. “We were able to provide students with a chance to hear different political ideologies and learn what each group is about.”

With Tuesday marking the last day students can register to vote for the Nov. 6 elections, Hook the Vote is having one last campus-wide voter registration drive.

Hook the Vote, a Student Government agency dedicated to registering students for elections, will have registration tables throughout campus from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Starting at 8 p.m., Hook the Vote will host a voter registration rally at Gregory Plaza.

“The idea is to have tables wherever students will go during the day,” Bill Calve, Hook the Vote president, said.

Calve said there will be tables on the West Mall, inside and outside of Jester, in front of Gregory and in front of the Co-op on the Drag. At the rally, Hook the Vote volunteers will continue to register students until midnight.

Calve said there will be speakers at the event, who will talk about the importance of civic engagement. Feature speakers include the vice president of Student Affairs Gage Paine and Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

“Voting, even though it is something you hear about all the time, is something that really matters in our everyday lives,” Calve said.

The voter registration rally at Gregory Plaza will also have free food and entertainment for students.

After registering students, Hook the Vote will also work to inform students about issues in the election. Calve said Hook the Vote will host a debate between College Republicans and University Democrats at 8 p.m. Oct. 24.

Printed on Tuesday, October 9, 2012 as: SG motivates voting registration